July 26, 2017

Who Makes The Cut? RB Edition

The strength of the running game last year just was not there. Part of that had to do with the O-line. The Bengals could not run right if Bobbie Williams was not playing. And part of that had to do with the guy demanding the rock.

The Bengals have brought in a number of guys in search of an upgrade, not just BJGE. There will be plenty to sort through in the backfield over the coming months. I will be watching this one closely. Will the fan favorites make the cut this year? I think the final selections just might surprise us.

Running Backs / Fullbacks
Starter On The Roster Camp Battle Long Shot
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Chris Pressley
Bernard Scott Brian Leonard
Cedric Peerman
Dan Herron
Rodney Stewart
James Develin
Aaron Brown

I included the fullbacks with the running backs. It didn’t make sense to separate them when there are only two guys.

The Bengals usually carry four RBs and a FB. They tried going without a FB a few years back (after Jeremi Johnson ate his way off the team and out of the league) and the running game suffered because of it. I don’t expect this, but if the coaches really want/need to open up a spot at another position, cutting Pressley and letting a tight end function like a fullback when needed would be one way to do that.

They have seven options to fill four RB slots. For Gruden’s RB-by-committee approach, we should see two primary guys (a hard-hitter and a shifty speedster), a third guy who will get occasional use, and an in-case-of-injury guy who gets deactivated on game days.

Starter: BenJarvus Green-Ellis

BJGE will be the hard-hitter of the group. Remember all of those 4th-and-goal situations last year? BJGE will do what Cedric could not and make sure that the Bengals are not settling for FGs so often. And don’t forget his claim to fame: ZERO fumbles in his career!

Likely Starter: Bernard Scott

Fans have clamored for Scott to be given a bigger role for a couple of seasons now. But he has the same problem as Chris Heisey: when he has been given a chance, he has not seized it. Has he not been used in the right situations, or is he just not the threat we thought he is? While he probably has the inside track to be the change-of-pace to BJGE, I could see someone pushing him for that spot.

Camp Battler: Brian Leonard

Leonard has plenty of fans because he is a fierce battler when he gets the ball on 3rd down. That will take him far, but I don’t see his spot as secure. Good thing for him, though, he is well accustomed to finding a way to scratch out a roster spot.

Camp Battler: Cedric Peerman

Peerman has been in the league for three years despite having only five career carries, so he also knows about fighting for a spot. He is a hard-hitter like BJGE, and could again stick as the just-in-case guy like he was behind Green-Ellis.

Camp Battler: Rodney Stewart

This is the guy that I think will create a real camp battle and just might shake up the roster more then we expect. He is small (5’6″ and 175 lbs), making him 2″ short and nearly 40 lbs lighter than Ray Rice. He will have to put on weight to last in the NFL. But there is a lot to like in the scouting report on him, though. I’ll be watching the kid, even if he has his work cut out for him due to his size.

Camp Battler: Dan “Boom” Herron

Like all of the guys that will be battling during camp for that final spot, he will have to shine on special teams to make the cut. He will likely have a significant uphill battle because he is a swap for (or a slight downgrade from?) Brian Leonard. It will take a lot to unseat the popular guy with experience.

Doubtful: Aaron Brown

Brown was signed as a free agent in February, but there is little in his build or track record to indicate that he has much of a shot to outshine the guys around him. Maybe he simply did not fit the Lions’ system. Or maybe he did not show them enough to be given another shot.

Starter: Chris Pressley

Pressley is one of those guys you don’t see much of, and that means he is getting his job done. He is good in protection and can stand up a LB trying to plug a gap. He is also one of those character, locker room guys that Marvin loves.

Camp Battler: James Develin

James will face the difficult task again of unseating Pressley as the team’s fullback. Honestly, another round on the practice squad seems more likely at this long distance from the season.

I don’t know which four of the seven RBs will make the roster (other than BJGE), and I am not going to be upset for anyone who does not make it, even if they were on the team last year. I want the four guy who get results, whatever the name is on his jersey.

Bolstering the line was a clear priority, and they addressed it with the addition of Wharton and Zeitler. Getting decent production out of the guard spots will be an automatic upgrade to the running game, no matter who the backs are.

Is there a home run hitter in this list? I don’t think so. The success of the running game, however, will come from the schemes devised by Jay Gruden. He has to approach the running game like a judo fighter, reading what the opponent wants to do and using their momentum against them, to get the most out of the guys he has to choose from.

An improved O-line, cunning play calling, and selecting the best four guys out of camp might give them that extra little push they need. Adding just 0.3 yd/carry would have bumped them from 2011’s 26th place finish in rushing to league average. Doing better than that will not only improve the run threat, but also help roll coverage away from A.J. Green.


  1. ItsSkylineTime says:

    Strong analysis, Bill, I’m with you all around. My only disappointment in the draft was that they didn’t address this position at all (Herron doesn’t count). There’s still no home run hitter and I suspect, as you do, that Bernard Scott isn’t what we all hoped and thought he would be. He shows flashes, but unless there is open space he does nothing – always goes down at first contact, which is a huge limiting factor in the NFL. I love what they’re doing almost across the board, but I’m still not happy with the RB situation – looks really weak to me.

    • Like most, I thought they had caught lightning in a bottle by Scott. But the more I have watched him, the more I have wondered where the production is.

      Not having a home run hitter doesn’t necessarily mean that the running game is doomed to be mediocre again. We won’t know until games start, but improvements at other positions may lift the running game by default. Zeitler and Wharton may open those holes a little wider, and multiple receiving threats may pull those LBs back just a little deeper. And maybe those little bits are just enough to make the difference. Maybe.

      To me, it is just as much on Jay Gruden to know and use his weapons effectively as it is for the RBs to run effectively when their number is called.