One of the more frustrating players in fantasy football over the last two seasons has been Cincinnati Bengals RB Joe Mixon. Last year he was frustrating due to his inconsistent play and this year he’s been frustrating due to a lingering foot injury. In both cases, fantasy managers have had to look at backup options, and with Mixon now on injured reserve, a great replacement option has been Mixon’s own replacement on the Bengals, backup RB Gio Bernard. But what should we expect from Gio Bernard against the Washington Football Team?
The Bengals offensive landscape so far in 2020
Before we dig into Gio Bernard and his fantasy outlook, let’s look at the 2020 Bengals offense as a whole first. Without a doubt, the biggest weakness for the Bengals this year has been their offensive line. The team has drafted some good talent but they just can’t seem to stay healthy. Even after drafting their QB of the future in Joe Burrow, fans and analysts alike were worried that he’d be under pressure so often as a rookie that it could limit his growth as a franchise quarterback. Luckily for Burrow and the Bengals, the offensive line hasn’t been as bad as expected and the team has been able to work to their gameplan most weeks.
For the season, the Bengals are 22nd in scoring offense and 18th in terms of offensive yards. They are 16th in passing yards and 21st in rushing yards, which is pretty much as the middle of the pack as you can get. The offense hasn’t exactly struggled to move the ball, but they haven’t really clicked yet either. Burrow has seemed to have moments of greatness but on such a mediocre team it’s hard to expect too much from him as a rookie.
In terms of rushing, the Bengals have 949 yards on the ground and Joe Mixon has run for 428 of them, a 45% overall share, even though he’s missed three games. Mixon also has 26 targets so far in 2020, a 7% overall share. In 2019, Mixon had 2.78 targets per game but in 2020, he has 4.33 targets per game in the six games he’s played. Clearly, the team was trying to use him in more ways and get the ball into his hands as much as possible, at least that was the case until he got hurt.
Gio Bernard’s previous play with Joe Mixon out
Once Joe Mixon’s injury occurred in Week 6 and the team looked to perennial favorite Giovani Bernard to pick up the slack, the general assumption was that the third-down back would see an uptick in targets and touches while assuming the lead back role. While that has generally been true, but Gio Bernard’s fantasy value has still been difficult to pin down.
Bernard has been the starter for Cincinnati for three weeks so far this year. In those three starts, he’s put up 20.6, 22.8, and 8.7 PPR fantasy points for an average of 17.3 PPR points. He’s rushed for 37, 62, and 30 yards, and his receiving lines read five catches for 59 yards, three catches for 16 yards, and four catches for 17 yards. In the first two games, he scored touchdowns which helped him get over 20 PPR fantasy points in each matchup. While these numbers may not look impressive, scoring over 16 PPR points per game is all it takes to be considered an RB1 this season, and Bernard fits that bill to a tee in his three starts so far this season.
By comparison, Joe Mixon wasn’t putting up fantasy RB1 numbers to start the season. In Weeks 1 through 3, Mixon was averaging just over nine PPR points per game, closer to RB3 numbers. After Mixon’s breakout game in Week 4 where he scored 42.1 fantasy points, his average over the next three games went up to 24.1 PPR points, largely due to his incredible Week 4 output.
Nonetheless, this was a significant increase from his previous three games and more in line with the real RB1 output that he had been drafted to produce. So was it Mixon struggling out of the gate or was it the team as a whole, and how can we use this to look ahead to Week 11’s outing against the Washington Football Team?
Joe Mixon is out – what is Gio Bernard’s fantasy value for Week 11?
For starters, the matchup in Week 11 is tough no matter who is starting for the Bengals. The Washington Football Team ranks 30th in Defensive Points Against Consistency (DPAC) allowed to the RB position, meaning they’re the third toughest team for running backs on the season. Whether it was Gio Bernard or Joe Mixon, this was going to be a tough game for whoever carried the ball for the Bengals.
Looking closer at last week’s loss against the Steelers, the outlook gets even worse. While Bernard led the running backs in total touches with 12, Samaje Perine had more carries, eight, and more rushing yards, 48. The Bengals even let second-year running back Trayveon Williams get some playing time while recording his first five career carries. This all came in a losing effort against a divisional opponent. If they couldn’t lean on Bernard then, why would they do it now?
While putting up okay numbers for fantasy in his three starts, Bernard himself hasn’t exactly been a true workhorse like his teammate Joe Mixon has been when healthy. Gio ran the ball 13, 15, and eight times in those three starts, and even if you add in his targets, he hasn’t had over 20 total opportunities in a game yet as the team’s RB1. This is worrisome on its own but add in the fact that he’s facing a tough defense this week, then that lower volume will also lower his predicted fantasy output. Based on the numbers, Bernard isn’t getting enough volume to really be an every-week starter, let alone this week against the Washington Football Team.
All of these issues make me very nervous to start Gio Bernard in fantasy with confidence this week. I get it, times are tough and a lot of running backs are missing time, so you might be forced to play him. But if you have better options, I would highly suggest looking at them instead of Bernard. I could be wrong, but the numbers don’t lie, and Bernard is facing both a tough matchup and a potential committee with other backs who barely made the team, which is not a great sign. Play Bernard at your own risk.
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.