Breaking Down the Bengals Backfield
Did the Cincinnati Bengals show their hand as to what type of offense they are going to run in 2019? The Bengals surprisingly drafted two running backs in this years NFL Draft. They also drafted Drew Sample in the second round. Sample is heralded more for his run blocking abilities than his pass catching skills.
The Bengals did not draft any other skill position players besides quarterback Ryan Finley in the fourth round. When the Zac Taylor article was written for FFS, we were not sure what type of offense Taylor would run. That article can be read here.
It is possible that Taylor employs a hybrid type of Sean McVay offense that focuses on the run. This makes some sense given the potent offenses in the AFC North. If successful, a ball control offense would work well to keep the likes of Odell Beckham, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Lamar Jackson off of the field.
Zac Taylor’s Background
From 2008-2011, Taylor was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M under Mike Sherman. Sherman ran a zone read scheme before converting to a pro-style offense while Taylor was his graduate assistant in College Station. While at Texas A & M, the offenses Taylor was involved with averaged 37.78 rushing attempts per game.
Zac Taylor went on to work under Joe Philbin and the Miami Dolphins from 2012-2015 as the quarterbacks coach. During Taylor’s stint in Miami, the offense averaged 23.94 rushing attempts per game. Those numbers ranked in the bottom of the league over that time. Philbin did manage to coach an RB9 finish out of his RB1 during his three-plus years as the head coach in Miami.
In 2016, Taylor was the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bearcats under Tommy Tuberville. As the offensive coordinator with the Bearcats in Cincinnati, they ranked 118th in the nation in rushing attempts with 33.0 attempts per game.
Finally, Taylor was the assistant wide receivers coach in 2017 and the quarterbacks coach in 2018 under Sean McVay. While with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and 2018, the Rams finished with 28.38 and 28.69 rushing attempts per game respectively. We all know about Todd Gurley and his usage. Expect a similar reliance on the run game in Cincinnati. However, it will likely be spread amongst the four rushers currently on the roster for the Bengals.
During those two years, the Bengals were 29th and 26th in the NFL with 23.56 and 22.44 rushing attempts per game. If Zac Taylor does follow suit from his days with McVay, that adds an extra six attempts on the ground per game.
Let us break down the current running backs for the Cincinnati Bengals and see what to expect in 2019.
Joe Mixon is the obvious lead back still but is likely to lose some work to Williams and Anderson. To say Mixon had an up and down year in 2018 would be an understatement. However, the second year back still finished as the RB10 in PPR formats.
Mixon will likely see a dip in the 16.9 attempts per game. The targets are likely to drop from the 55 he saw in 2018.
It will be interesting to see how the addition of the two productive running backs will impact Mixon’s ADP. Mixon is currently being drafted at pick 17.61 (RB7) in full redraft leagues. That may go lower as the offseason programs ramp up and preseason shows how the Bengals may deploy their stable of rushers. Given that Mixon has missed at least two games his first two years in the league, an opportunity may present itself for one of the other backs to take on a larger role in the offense.
Gio Bernard may end up being a cap casualty with the selection of Williams and Anderson. If not, Bernard will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020 and will likely be moving on.
You can see the Bengals would save $3.75 million in cap space by cutting Bernard. A post-June 1st cut would have the same impact on the cap so the team has all offseason to decide what they want to do. Bernard has been productive in his time in Cincinnati but he has not had a top 20 PPR finish since 2015.
If Williams and Anderson show well during offseason workouts, Bernard could be shown the door. This could open up a three-headed running back by committee amongst the remaining young rushers.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected Trayveon Williams with pick number nine in the sixth round (182 overall). A full prospect profile of Williams is available courtesy of Jesse Reeves. Comped to Elijah McGuire by the NFL Draft profiles, Williams is a good pass catcher and could supplant Giovanni Bernard from that role this season.
Williams got better as he got older and added some weight in 2018. Williams outperformed Rodney Anderson every step of the way in regards to rushing yardage. Obviously, the injuries to Anderson played a part in the differences, but even in 2017 when fully healthy, Anderson was outgained by Williams. Given that Williams was taken a full 30 picks ahead of Anderson shows the Bengals value him just a bit more.
With Bernard potentially being a cap casualty and Rodney Anderson’s injury history, Williams appears to be the safest bet to climb the depth chart and cut into Mixon’s workload. The current ADP for the former Aggie is pick 43.19 and RB13 in rookie drafts.
The Bengals went back to the running back well selecting Rodney Anderson with pick number 39 in the sixth round (211th overall). A full prospect profile of Anderson is available courtesy of Raju Byfield. The oft-injured Oklahoma grad is comped to Stevan Ridley by the NFL Draft profiles. The plan may be to ease Anderson into a role and then let Giovanni Bernard walk after this year if he is not cut sooner.
Some have pegged Rodney Anderson as the steal of the draft. This could certainly be the case if the polarizing back can remain healthy. Coincidentally, Mixon and Anderson were teammates at Oklahoma. The duo finds themselves in the same running back room yet again competing for carries.
A look at the 2017 numbers from Anderson shows how capable he is as a runner.
Anderson averaged 7.0 yard per touch over a 13 game span in his Sophomore year at Oklahoma. The potential is certainly there for Anderson to produce. There are a couple of obstacles in the way, however. They come in the form of injuries, Mixon, and Williams. Anderson actually is being drafted higher than Williams at this point. The former Sooner is going off the board with pick 37.25 and the RB10 in rookie drafts.
Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals may have tipped us off as to what their offense may look like in 2019. Drafting a pair of running backs and a run-blocking tight end certainly indicates a potential reliance on the running game. The backfield is crowded, to say the least. Mixon will likely still command a large workload in 2019. Beyond this season is where the intrigue begins as we likely will see Giovanni Bernard out and just the three young backs remaining to fight for touches.