- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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A day-by-day look this week at five position groups where the Cincinnati Bengals have draft needs. We started with quarterbacks, then looked at defensive ends, and outside linebackers. Now we continue with running backs.
Running backs lost: None.
Running backs added: None.
Draft likelihood: Medium.
Rounds drafted? Third or later.
Analysis: One of the most-discussed Bengals storylines this offseason has to do with new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's plans to emphasize physical play. He and head coach Marvin Lewis want to run the ball more often and use the run to set up the pass. They also want to change the general attitude of the offense, having players focus on executing minor details that would give it that physical edge, like executing better blocks and fighting for more receptions on passes downfield. The culture change on that side of the ball might be more important than the schematic tweaks that are coming.
One personnel-related scheme change that could help the Bengals in their quest for a more physical offense would be the addition of a running back. There was an expectation that they might go after a physical runner during free agency. Since that didn't happen, attention has instead turned to the draft where it's possible the Bengals might make a late-round addition that could help shore up their depth at the position. Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are the headliners in the backfield, with second-year back Rex Burkhead hopeful to contribute more this season, and Cedric Peerman also looking to play a larger reserve role. An additional back could help keep the group fresh and provide more depth to a position that can never have enough of it. With Green-Ellis and Peerman's contracts expiring after 2014, the Bengals could end up in the market for a running back next season. It might be smart to start building that depth ahead of their possible departures.
As drafts go, this one isn't chock full of running back talent. Much like last year when Bernard was the first back picked in the second round, rushers could fall in this draft. With other positions out-ranking the need for a new running back, don't be surprised if the Bengals wait until the third round or later to make their move. There should be options at that point, too. Auburn's Tre Mason could be a possibility, as could West Virginia's Charles Sims. Kent State speedster Dri Archer is a likely mid-round pick, along with Stanford's Tyler Gaffney. Though the Bengals could use a player with Archer's 4.26 40-yard speed, they have good reason to explore bigger bruiser-type backs like Gaffney, too. Either way, at some point in the middle-to-late rounds, the Bengals should be able to find a back who could help their push for physicality. If not, there could be some undrafted prospects they could pursue, too.
Potential picks: Tre Mason (Auburn), Charles Sims (West Virginia), Devonta Freeman (Florida State), Dri Archer (Kent State), Tyler Gaffney (Stanford), James Wilder Jr. (Florida State), Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State).