North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard dazzled opponents with his burst in the running and return game in 2011. Now he's taking his game to the next level, having officially declared for the NFL Draft on Friday following two seasons at Carolina.
Bernard is the top-ranked running back in NFLDraftScout.com's prospect rankings and the No. 45 player overall on Rob Rang's Big Board. It's a weak crop of running backs leaving for the pros this year, but that should've only made Bernard's decision easier.
"I thoroughly enjoyed my three years in Chapel Hill, and coming to UNC was one of the best decisions I've ever made," Bernard said in a statement released by the team. "I feel like the best decision for my future is to enter the NFL draft this year. I want to thank Coach [Larry] Fedora, this coaching staff and the previous coaching staff for putting me in a position to succeed. I am on track to graduate, and I plan on coming back to earn my degree in the Spring of 2014."
As Rang notes, Bernard does come with some concerns. He doesn't have prototypical size (5-foot-10, 205 pounds), and he dealt with injuries throughout his college career.
That being said, Bernard's season ended up being underrated: despite missing two games because of injury, the back totaled 1,228 rushing yards and averaged 198.1 all-purpose yards per game. He scored 19 touchdowns with 12 rushing, five receiving and two in the return game. That included an electrifying walk-off return to beat UNC's rival, N.C. State, in November.
Bernard projects as a second-round pick, but a combination of his athleticism, a lack of running backs in the draft and good medicals between now and April could easily vault him into the first round.
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