Running backs are frequently injured. This is why handcuffs at the position are so valuable in fantasy football. Gio Bernard is one of the top handcuffs because he not only steps into a starting role if Joe Mixon goes down, but he can give you significant fantasy points without injury.
Zero RB is a strategy used frequently by fantasy owners. This is because running backs are injured so often. From 2000-2014, running backs were tied with wide receivers for the percentage of players missing one or more weeks and had the highest percentage of players missing 4 or more weeks. Thus the popularity of handcuffs in fantasy football.
Even more valuable is a handcuff who still produces significant points. Guys like Atlanta Falcons’ Tevin Coleman, former Carolina Panthers’ duo Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, and Cincinnati Bengals’ Gio Bernard. While Coleman is also a valuable running back to own, Gio, in my opinion, is the best handcuff in the league. This article aims to show you why he is valuable and why he should be owned in all formats.
Despite sharing a backfield, Gio has been productive every season of his career. In each of his first three seasons, Gio eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage. In the other two seasons, he averaged more than 50 yards from scrimmage per game. All while losing touches to his backfield mates. In Gio’s rookies season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis received 220 carries. In 2014 – 2016, Jeremy Hill received 249, 238, and 243 touches respectively. Last season, Joe Mixon out touched Gio 208 to 148. A torn ACL in week 11 of the 2016 season affected Gio’s 2016 and 2017 touches. In 2017, Gio started out slow but exploded the last five weeks, providing a good omen for 2017.
In Weeks 13-17, Bernard ranked 21st in elusive rating (42.0) and forced 16 missed tackles across 95 touches. https://t.co/dNSqIYGPam
— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) July 23, 2018
Gio has also been relatively efficient with his touches. Since playerprofiler.com‘s inception in 2016, Gio has finished 29th and 25th in Production Premium in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Production Premium is the comparison of a player’s outcomes on certain plays in certain game situations versus league-average. He also ranked as 29th and 6th in yards per tough respectively.
In fantasy, Gio has been as or more productive his backfield counterpart despite being out-touched most of the time. In PPR, he has finished as RB13 (Green-Ellis finished as RB39), RB16 (RB10), RB17 (RB20), RB41 (RB22), and RB28 (RB30). Gio finished as RB41 because of the torn ACL. In the 10 games, he did play, he averaged 12.4 fantasy points per game, which was good for RB28. Hill was RB29 in fantasy points per game that season.
One of Gio’s best traits, especially as a running back in PPR fantasy, is his ability as a receiver. Gio’s lowest receiving production was in his injury-shortened 2016 when he caught 39 balls on 51 targets for 336 yards. In 2017 he continued his receiving success, finishing fourth among running backs in yards per target. He also helped Andy Dalton finish third in passing yards per attempt on passes at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Giovani Bernard impressed as a receiver again in 2017. pic.twitter.com/01jmW1E5qC
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 3, 2018
Gio’s ACL tear and successive recovery need to be taken into consideration when looking at his 2018 prospects. A study published 2006 found that, while 80% of running backs return to the NFL after an ACL injury, they see a one-third reduction in performance. There is good news for Gio and his fantasy owners, however. There have been advancements in ACL surgery, like being able to cut recovery time in half. Since the paper was published, we have seen Adrian Peterson return after a week 16 ACL tear in 2011 and nearly break the rushing record in 2012. 2011 also saw Jamaal Charles tear his ACL. He returned in 2012 and produced over 1700 yards from scrimmage. These two running back are all-time greats, but the point still stands.
Gio’s 2017 season provides hope for 2018 as well. As was discussed above, Gio’s last five weeks of 2017 were more productive than the first 11. This came almost exactly a year after he tore his ACL. 60% of Gio’s total yards from scrimmage were gained in those last five weeks. Entering the 2018 season well over a year removed from his torn ACL, Gio will look to continue this success he had at the end of the 2017 season.
Another reason to like Gio’s 2018 outlook is the moves made in the offseason to better the offensive line. PFF ranked the Bengals offensive line 28th overall in 2017 To try to improve the line, the Bengals traded for former Buffalo Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn. While injuries have hampered the last couple of seasons for Glenn, previous to 2017, many considered him on of the top tackles in the NFL. Along with trading for Glenn, the Bengals also drafted center Billy Price from Ohio State. Price’s pass blocking wasn’t the best in 2017, ranking 27th among draft-eligible centers by PFF. However, he ranked 6th in terms of run blocking. These moves will hopefully lead to better blocking in both the pass and run game and an overall improvement on the offensive side of the ball for the Bengals in 2018.
Trading for Cordy Glenn upgrades the Bengals offensive line pic.twitter.com/nflFWMVbBW
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 12, 2018
Coaching continuity is the final reason to be hopeful about 2018 for Gio. Two weeks into the 2017 season, the Bengals hadn’t scored a touchdown. Because of this, offensive coordinator Ken Zempese was fired and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor was promoted. Lazor had to try to improve the Bengals offense while dealing with a bad offensive line, injuries, and an uncertain running back rotation. After being retained as the offensive coordinator, Lazor will be able to implement his offensive over a full offseason. This steadiness plus the improvements in the offseason should allow the Bengals to improve on offense in 2018.
Average Draft Position
Currently, Gio is being drafted 122nd overall in dynasty leagues and 151st overall in redraft leagues. Positionally, he is going as the 43rd running back in dynasty and 53rd. These ADPs equate to positional values of RB4 and RB5. As was discussed, a 2016 torn ACL resulted in an RB41 fantasy finish for Gio. This was the worst fantasy finish of his career. In that season, however, he ranked 28th in fantasy points per game. His current ADP is an absolute value.
While Gio has never been the lead back for the Bengals, he has still been extremely productive throughout his career. Three 1,000 plus yards from scrimmage seasons are proof of Gio’s success. In 2017, however, the entire Bengals offense struggled. With improvements to the offensive line as well as continuity in the offensive coaching staff, Gio’s and the Bengal’s outlooks look much better for 2018.
In fantasy, Gio’s lowest finish was in 2016 as RB41 due to a torn ACL. At his current draft prices RB43 and RB51 in dynasty and redraft respectively, he is a value. Look for Gio to return RB3 numbers at RB4+ prices in 2018.