The Bucs beefed up the backfield Monday with the signing of nine-year veteran Giovani Bernard. The former Cincinnati Bengal has had a nice career as a rotational, change-of-pace back, which is the same role he should have in Tampa Bay.
He brings 6,564 career yards from scrimmage, 33 total touchdowns, and a healthy 5.2 yards per touch with him, as well. It’s clear the Bucs have added another playmaker to the running back room, but what exactly should we expect from Bernard in 2021?
Giovani Bernard as a runner
Bernard has a career average of 4.0 yards per carry and he has never cracked 1,000 rushing yards in a single season, but that’s OK. He’s not a bellcow-type back.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not an effective runner.
Bernard is better suited for a zone scheme, where he can use his shiftiness and ability to cut back/change direction when needed. He has always shown good patience and decent vision when it comes to making the decision to either bend, bang, or bounce.
As you can see in the example above, Bernard is still quick and shifty. The Bucs’ offensive line is much, much better than Cincinnati’s, too. So, he should be able to find more success on the ground in 2021.
He comes in at 5-foot-9, but is built well at 208-pounds. Bernard isn’t known for flattening defenders or using a Derrick Henry-like stiff arm to bounce dudes, but his low center of gravity allows for him to run with power. If a linebacker, cornerback, or any other defender isn’t filling their gap or isn’t wrapping up/tackling properly then Bernard will make them pay. When you add that to his ability to cut on a dime, he can be lethal.
The Bucs prefer a power/gap scheme on the ground, but they still run zone from time to time. Per Pro Football Focus, 33% of the run blocking snaps played by Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line were zone runs. The power game better suits the Bucs as team, but there are flashes when it comes to the zone scheme. Bernard -being that he is better suited for a zone scheme as opposed to Jones and Fournette- could elevate the Buccaneers’ efficiency in 2021.
Bernard isn’t going to go off for 32 rushing attempts and 200+ yards any time soon, but give him smart coaching and good game planning and there is little doubt that he’ll provide value for the Bucs.
Giovani Bernard in the passing game
This is where the former Tar Heel really excels.
Bernard is easily one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. He has the third-most receiving yards and receptions among running back since 2013. Whether it’s a screen, dump-off, swing pass, wheel route – it doesn’t matter. Bernard thrives in space and still has the agility and wheels to run past people.
He’s still exceptionally effective in the screen game. Bernard’s 0.18 EPA/tgt was seventh-best out of all running backs with at least 14 targets on screens. It was also a higher mark than what Aaron Jones, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara finished with in 2020.
I mean, just watch Bernard completely shake Avery Williamson on the play below. He’s lined up to the left of quarterback Ryan Finley. The dude still has some moves left in the tank.
Bernard is very good in pass protection, as well. Per PFF, he has a career average grade of 72.7, which is in the green. He hasn’t finished a season with a below-average grade since 2015, which also happens to be the only season in that context.
Bruce Arians has made it clear over the years that it’s imperative for running backs to be effective in pass pro. Bernard is exactly that, if not more.
This is a really good signing for the Bucs. Contract details have yet to be released, but I imagine that Bernard will come relatively cheap. He immediately bolsters the backfield and gives the Bucs both injury insurance and an option in case Ke’Shawn Vaughn doesn’t pan out as expected.
What he really brings is a reliable, proven veteran who can catch the ball. Tampa Bay’s running backs really struggled in this area last year. It inconsistency/lack of production was hard to miss and the numbers reflected that.
Per PFF, Ke'Shawn Vaughn graded out as the league's worst receiving back, but RoJo also graded out as the league's third-worst receiving back.
Ummm. I think it's clear the #Bucs need to go after a pass-catching RB this offseason.
— Evan Winter (@evan_winter) March 14, 2021
If Bernard pans out, then a dangerous Bucs offense just became even more so.