Capable of controlling a game from start to finish
Phenomenal punt returner
A little undersized
Missed 2010 season
Already has one surgically repaired knee
Rumors of maturity concerns
Summary: Bernard was a top prospect coming out of high school and one of the jewels of Butch Davis' strong recruiting classes at North Carolina. Unfortunately, as a freshman in 2010, Bernard tore an ACL on the third day of practice, causing him to take a redshirt season.
Immediately in 2011, Bernard showed no rust from the injury as he took the ACC by storm. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry with 1,324 yards and 13 touchdowns. Bernard also caught 45 passes for 362 yards and a score. The conference voted him as an All-ACC First-Teamer. He was an explosive playmaker from his first game through his last with the Tar Heels.
Bernard was even better in 2012, as he averaged 6.7 yards per carry for 1,228 yards with 12 touchdowns. Bernard also had 47 receptions for 490 yards and five scores. He's averaged 16.4 yards per punt return with two trips into the end zone. He led the conference with 19 touchdowns and the nation as a punt returner. Bernard had nothing left to prove at the college level, and there was no reason for him to take another injury risk by returning to North Carolina. Bernard has officially entered the 2013 NFL Draft.
The trait that immediately jumps out about Bernard is his explosiveness. Bernard is extremely quick to hit the hole and accelerates to the second level of the defense in an instant. In the open field, Bernard is deadly. He is very difficult to tackle with his elusiveness. Bernard has great cutting ability to dodge tacklers. He also is extremely fast and can take any touch the distance.
Bernard is slightly undersized, but he runs tougher than one would expect. He can break tackles and picks up yards after contact. He has a thick lower body that helps him to get through arm tackles.
Bernard projects as a true three-down running back in the NFL. He is an excellent receiver; he runs good routes and is dangerous in the open field. He will present many mismatches against NFL linebackers on routes out of the backfield. On third-and-short and third-and-managable, Bernard will offer a nice array of options to offensive coordinators.
Even though he is very skilled, it is doubtful that he will be used as a punt returner in the NFL. His coaching staff will want to protect him and save him for offense. In key situations, they may put him back to return a punt, but it will probably be a rare occasion. If Bernard loses his spot as the starting running back, he could take over punt-return duties.
It would be best for Bernard to be spelled with a backup running back regularly. Because of his size, he is going to need to be protected from injury, and splitting some carries will help keep him fresh. He's had 11 games of 20 or more carries in his college career, so he is not brittle by any means. However, the NFL is a longer and violent season. Bernard should be protected to try to avoid nagging injuries like hamstring and ankle maladies that could rob him of his playmaking ability.
Bernard looks like the top running back in the 2013 NFL Draft and could be a pick in the 20-40 range. Bernard could then quickly become one of the more explosive running backs in the NFL.
Player Comparison: Chris Johnson. This was a tough one. I was torn between Chris Johnson and Reggie Bush. Bernard's versatility and the variety of ways he can contribute in the passing game as well as the ground attack reminds me of Bush. However, Bernard's trademark trait is his explosiveness. Johnson is faster than Bernard, but not by a big amount. Both Johnson and Bernard are threats to score on any carry with the unique ability to constantly rip off big gains. There are very few running backs in the NFL whom Bernard resembles, but CJ2K could be the most similar back in terms of playing style.
NFL Matches: New York Jets, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Green Bay,
The Jets need talent at running back and Bernard would be a real upgrade for New York over Shonn Greene. New York would probably consider Bernard with their second-round pick unless it trades down from its first selection.
Cincinnati needs a running back to pair with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Bernard would work really well in Jay Gruden's offense. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a quality back as part of a stable, but not a real difference-maker. Cincinnati could target Bernard with its high second-round pick (formerly Oakland's) if it doesn't feel he is worth its first-rounder.
Both the Steelers and Falcons need a starting running back, but Bernard doesn't seem natural for either team. They each already have some smaller speed options and probably will want a back with more power and size. Still, Bernard is worth considering for Atlanta and Pittsburgh with their first-round picks.
The Green Bay Packers would be a tremendous fit for Bernard. He would take a lot of pressure off of Aaron Rodgers and also would give Rodgers a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. Green Bay could really use some productive stability from the running back position. The Packers would have to use their first-round pick to land Bernard or trade up in the second round. Bernard in Green Bay makes so much sense, it seems impossible.
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