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Fantasy Football Today

Inside the projection: Giovani Bernard

By Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer

Giovani Bernard should exceed 300 touches in 2014. (USATSI)
Giovani Bernard should exceed 300 touches in 2014. (USATSI)

The typical projection for a well-known Fantasy player takes anywhere from two to seven minutes.

Giovani Bernard's projection took over an hour.

I am not shy about my excitement for Bernard. I think he's multi-talented and versatile -- how can you say otherwise about him after last season?

Already this offseason Marvin Lewis has said he "hoped" to have Bernard follow the early-career trajectory of Ray Rice. But a not-so-quick dig into new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's history suggests really big things for Gio.

Jackson is a friend to running backs going back to his days of coaching up the Southern Cal offense from 1997 to 2000. Long story short, backs have averaged around 40 percent of his playcalls on handoffs alone for all but one of his years as a coordinator. And as for his time in the NFL, backs have caught at least 21 percent of his team's completions every year and over 25 percent in three of four years.

So, yeah. Gio should get a bumper crop of touches. Assuming he stays healthy. He played in 16 games last year, missed two games the year before in college and didn't miss any in his second year at North Carolina after tearing up his knee as a freshman in 2010. I think it's safe enough to count on him for 16 games.

Jackson's running backs have averaged 24.5 carries per game in his four years as a play caller. After watching Bernard dominate carries late last season I think we can assume he'll get at least 15 of them per game. Could be more like 17-18. I'm comfortable giving him close to 16 per game -- call it 16.2 carries per -- with 3.3 grabs per game. Remember, backs play a big role in Jackson's passing attack and the Bengals don't have a back on the roster besides Bernard who can fill that role. It's also why Bernard's carry average isn't higher. I'm giving Bernard 259 carries and 53 receptions.

Bernard's 2013 rushing average was an acceptable 4.1 yards per carry, but I'm afraid I've got some bad news. He struggled in his last four games (when he had more touches than BenJarvus Green-Ellis) including the playoffs with a 2.4 rushing average. Normally we like to see a player finish strong and Bernard did the opposite, suggesting that he was gassed by the time the season was over. Bernard also sported a poor rushing average -- 1.9 -- in his only game with 15 carries last season. I'm not ready to let this information sway me but it will keep a lid on the rushing average I'll give him. A basic 4.0 keeps forecasts grounded, so mark him for 1,040 yards.

Where Bernard was much better last year was as a receiver. On the season he averaged 9.2 yards per catch and he finished strong in those final four games, picking up 11.5 per catch. And in games where he had at least three receptions he averaged 8.8 yards per. What does it all mean? Well, finishing strong late suggests he's excelling at what he's being asked, and being productive with a lot of work suggests stability and consistency. So at least we know Bernard can be a factor as a receiver, which is great considering Jackson's track record and what he'll ask Gio to do this year. Let's roll with that 8.8 receiving average for a fantastic 466 yards through the air.

Do you still believe that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the Bengals' best back at the goal line? The team probably thinks so as it's really the only role he's still qualified for. Each of his seven touchdowns came from five yards or closer including three from a yard out. Bernard had some short-yardage scores too, three of 'em to be exact, so it's not like he'll always get replaced at the stripe. That's on top of whatever he can deliver from outside five yards of the end zone as well as what he can do on a catch-and-run. Gio had eight touchdowns last year, repeating could definitely be in the cards.

Final early projection: 259 carries, 1,040 yards, six touchdowns; 53 catches, 466 receiving yards, two touchdown catches, two fumbles.

Your turn. Am I on point or off base? Twitter: @daverichard. Email: on the left side of this page.

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