Giovani Bernard’s fantasy value in PPR leagues

Bernard reputation of a guy whose value is tied up in the passing game, but the numbers don't really back that up.

| 12 months ago
(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Giovani Bernard’s fantasy value in PPR leagues

(Editor’s note: Every day, we’re offering our Crazy Fantasy Stat of the Day, something that catches our eye and helps us learn something for the 2016 season.)

Player develop reputations based on their skills. DeSean Jackson, the thinking goes, might only catch three passes a game, but he could turn that into 160 yards and two scores if it breaks right. Trent Richardson would always get you two yards, no matter if you needed one yard or six.

At a certain point, these just become truisms that we believe in, and whether or not they are accurate becomes somehow unimportant. For example, in his 16 career hundred-yard games, Jackson has averaged 5.8 catches, and has more such games with seven or more catches than he does with four or fewer. Some of these “truisms” are actually true, and some aren’t, and it almost doesn’t matter.

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Which brings us to Cincinnati Bengals’ running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard has a reputation as one of the highest-end pass-catching running backs in the league, the yin to power-back Jeremy Hill’s yang in the Cincinnati offense. That reputation is the inspiration for today’s Fantasy Stat of the Day: Since Giovani Bernard’s debut, 18.4 percent of the Bengals’ passing targets have gone to running backs, below the average of 19.3 percent across the rest of the league.

Bernard is a pass-catching running back, to be sure, but in three seasons, he’s never finished better than 10th among running backs in targets per game or had 70 targets in a season. There have been 19 running back seasons with 70 targets in the last three years, but he’s maxed out at 67. In 2014, when 23.8 percent of Cincinnati passes went to running backs and the team’s wide receiver and tight ends were dotted with injuries, Bernard had only 55 targets.

There are some running backs who are prime options for PPR fantasy football leagues over standard. In 2015, Danny Woodhead, Theo Riddick, Duke Johnson, Shane Vereen, Darren Sproles and Charles Sims all gained more yards on receptions than on the ground, and all had more receptions than Bernard. Bernard, meanwhile, had 472 receiving yards last year on 49 receptions — and 730 yards on the ground. He scored two rushing touchdowns in 2015, zero receiving, and 12 of his 17 career scores have been rushing.

[Where should you take the Cincinnati running backs in standard leagues? What about PPR? Check our new fantasy draft tool and see.]

Bernard is currently the 27th-ranked running back in our consensus staff rankings for standard leagues, 24th in PPR. That three-spot jump pales in comparison to the jumps of guys like Woodhead and Johnson. Bernard is a perfectly fine running back. But he isn’t the PPR monster some make him out to be.

Draft Guide 2016

| Fantasy Editor

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus. He has previously appeared at SB Nation.

  • Vic Hedges

    A couple of things, notably in reference to the stat of the day: even though the Bengals percentage of throws to RBs is lower than the league average, that’s a questionable statistic because it implies that ALL teams were throwing at the same rate. What if the Bengals threw more than the rest of the league but their rate was lower? That might mean that their overall number of passes to RBs would be higher than most teams, creating MORE opportunities for the Bengals RBs to catch the ball. Second, even though Bernard has never finished better than 10th in targets per game, what is the sample size? How many RBs “qualify”? Is it 50? If so, then a 10th place finish in targets/game puts that player in the top 20%. If a player finished in the top fifth would that then be constituted as that player being labeled a “high-end” pass catching back??

    • ach87

      Last year, the Bengals had the 5th-highest rushing percentage in the entire league. The also had the 7th-lowest pass attempts per game. So there goes your first theory. What you’re talking about might make sense for a more pass-happy team with the right personnel – say, the Saints when they had Sproles – but Marvin Lewis has always been conservative.

      As for how many RBs qualify, remember that we’re talking about this from a fantasy perspective. As the article mentioned, he’s their 27th-ranked RB, and in most leagues anyone outside the top 20 is not weekly starter material. In this case, I don’t think they’re labeling Bernard as a high-end pass-catcher because his contributions in the passing game don’t really translate into every-week starter value. At best, they put him on the fringe.