Gio Bernard, Finesse RunnerWednesday, January 30, 2013
I sat down to watch three of North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard's 2012 games on Tuesday night. All three were high-volume, high-production games where Bernard racked up at least 25 touches and compiled a minimum of 200 total yards. Bernard had great stats in all three games, but the numbers mean nothing to me. I'm trying to identify Bernard's traits as a runner, and to decide whether and how his skill set translates to the NFL.
Listed at 5-foot-10, 205, Bernard is a compactly-built back who runs with good pad level, staying low to the ground and offering defenders minimal strike zone. His acceleration and speed jumped off the tape. I suspect Bernard will run a forty time in the 4.4s at February's Combine with a top-notch ten-yard split, which measures short-area burst. He can really run.
Bernard has quick feet and he can make lightning quick cuts. The running back trait that best indicates NFL success is lateral movement -- the ability to elude defenders and make them miss while sacrificing little or no forward momentum. Bernard is both laterally and vertically explosive. He has a ton of talent.
Bernard is also skilled in the passing game. I charted him with eight blitz-pickup opportunities in the three games, and he executed successfully on seven. Bernard has smooth hands, is a natural receiver out of the backfield, and looks ready to play in the passing game in the NFL. That's a huge plus in a passing league. Be it as a timeshare runner or lead back in a committee, I expect Bernard to see the field early in his career.
There are some red flags on Giovani Bernard's game tape, however, and I wonder if they'll cause him to max out as a change-of-pace back in the pros. Bernard lacks power. He is not a tough runner through contact. Either Bernard doesn't have very strong legs or he simply doesn't know how to use them. On just one occasion -- against Duke -- did Bernard legitimately move a pile. You often hear about running backs that "fall forward," and max out their runs. Bernard doesn't consistently finish his runs and doesn't consistently fall forward. He was ineffective in short yardage, which probably means he'll be even less effective against bigger, stronger defensive front-seven members in those situations at the next level.
Bernard is a pure finesse back. His tape reminded me of Ryan Mathews' from 2012. Despite possessing elusive ability, Bernard was tackled one-on-one far too often in the games I viewed. I charted Bernard with just five "wins" among 13 open-field one-on-one situations. He lost the other eight, failing to make the defender miss or power through him.
Bernard met North Carolina State safety Brandan Bishop four times in the open field in the Tar Heels' October 27 date with the Wolfpack. Bishop won the battle all four times, tackling Bernard free of significant yards after contact. Bishop is a senior and is not expected to be drafted this April. On Bernard's long runs, he was often untouched. Untouched long runs don't tell me much because Bernard is very, very rarely going to have the opportunity to duplicate those in the pros. Maybe once or twice a year.
Bernard reacted to "footsteps" on pass routes over the middle. He liked the sideline. I wish he would have broken plays back upfield more often. I don't think Bernard likes to mix it up and get physical. At the end of runs, Bernard showed an alarming tendency to stop his feet and simply accept being tackled.
Bernard did demonstrate impressive football IQ on a critical play late in the Duke game. Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner had just completed a strike deep down the middle to wide-open receiver Erik Highsmith. Blue Devils safety Jordon Byas popped the football loose from behind and it rocketed into the turf, bouncing seven yards downfield. Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell was first to the ball, but Bernard outhustled Cockrell, scooped it up and scored a go-ahead touchdown with 3:12 left.
Expected to be an early second-round pick, Bernard is an exciting talent, and at the very least he will add playmaking ability to an NFL offense in limited doses. I wonder whether Bernard can be a "sustainer" back, or the foundation of an NFL run game. Because he does not run with power and does not profile as a mover of the chains. And that's probably why he won't go in the first round.
Sensible NFL Team Fits: Bengals, Lions, Jets, Packers.