Giovani Bernard, younger brother of former Oregon State and NFL running back Yvenson Bernard; lead St. Thomas Aquinas High School to consecutive 5A state titles as a sophomore and as a junior. As a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas the Orlando Sun-Sentinel ranked Bernard as the No.2 RB in the state of Florida. Rivals.com also ranked him as the 12th best RB in the country.
After committing to North Carolina University, Bernard tore his ACL on the third day of fall practice and redshirted all of 2010. As a redshirt freshman, Bernard rushed for 1,253 yards and 14 touchdowns as well as 362 yards on 45 receptions and 1 touchdown. As a result of his stellar play, he earned first-team All-ACC honors.
Bernard was also a recipient of the Brian Piccolo award which is an honor given to the ACC’s most courageous player. Despite missing a couple games early in the 2012 season, Bernard is well on pace to eclipse his production from last season as he’s already rushed for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 126 carries. He also has 32 receptions for 319 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Size: While Bernard does not have prototypical NFL size at 5’10”205 lbs. he does possess a similar body type to those who have found success at the next level such as Ray Rice, DeAngelo Williams and Ahmad Bradshaw. Bernard possesses a low center of gravity, and he is certainly not maxed out as he could easily add another 10 lbs. to his frame. Nonetheless, Bernard has been able to handle the workload of a feature back for nearly two seasons now, missing just two games in the process.
Speed: Possessing good, not great speed, Bernard has enough to break the long run rather consistently on the collegiate level. While watching him attempt to get around end, I have seen Bernard running full speed get tracked down by LBs from the backside. I know many will disagree but I’m simply not seeing low to mid 4.4 speed from Bernard. I see Bernard running in the range of 4.49-4.55.
Quickness: This is easily one of Bernard’s greatest attributes as I would not hesitate to call Bernard elite in this area. Due to Bernard’s start and stop ability and wiggle, he is able to set up his blocks and get on the edge of tackles rather consistently. His suddenness and lateral agility are unrivaled in the 2013 RB draft class.
Running Inside: Bernard is a tough inside runner who is not easily knocked off his axis. He possesses appropriate pad level between the tackles and utilizes a compact spin move while in traffic that is rather effective. Bernard’s low center of gravity goes a long way towards allowing him to maintain his balance through contact.
In addition to Bernard’s superior balance as an inside runner, he also has incredible patience. His patience as a runner is what separates him from many backs in this class. Watching Bernard it doesn’t take long to appreciate his understanding of attacking and causing defenders to commit. He certainly adheres to the practice of being slow to and fast through the hole. Bernard is truly a very mature runner.
Running Outside: Very rarely do you find RBs that are rated nearly the same, as inside and outside runners, however Bernard is an exception. While I actually believe Bernard to be a better inside than outside runner, he runs with nearly the same patience and decisiveness he does on the interior.
Bernard doesn’t waste much time with his pads perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and is rarely strung out of bounds on outside runs. He is also well adept at making defenders miss in the open field. My major bone of contention with Bernard as an outside runner is that I would like to see him take the edge with greater consistency.
As I alluded to earlier, Bernard has been chased down in backside pursuit by LBs in the past. As a smaller back, I would like to be certain that Bernard can consistently get around end at the next level. I cannot say that beyond a shadow of a doubt that his quickness, patience and vision will compensate for a lack of long speed when it’s a dead sprint to get to the corner.
Receiving: Bernard has natural hands as a receiver and is far more involved in UNC’s passing game than just in the screen game. Bernard has made big plays on wheel routes out of the backfield and has also demonstrated the ability to get vertical down the seam. Bernard’s fingertip grab against Miami is one of the many examples that prove Bernard is a very good hands catcher of the football.
Blocking: It was a pleasant surprise to watch just how solid Bernard was in this area. Bernard definitely understands how imperative it is to meet his man in the hole, rather than waiting for the defender to come to him. Bernard also knows when he can stalemate a defender and when it might be necessary to cut block. When Bernard chooses to stalemate his defender, he keeps a wide base, and does not lunge or duck his head. I have to believe it’s very helpful to have an older brother that has played at the next level and can show him some of the tricks of the trade.
Reading Blocks: As stated above, Bernard is a very mature runner who is extremely patient and really knows how to set up his blocks. Bernard’s exceptional lateral agility and quickness combined with his patience as a runner really enables him to press the hole and explode through the slightest sliver of daylight. Bernard runs with excellent pace and rhythm on both inside and outside runs, which makes him a well-balanced RB.
Vision: Bernard has very good vision and can recognize creases in the defense on the interior as well as along the perimeter. I’m a big fan of Bernard’s ability to read and set up his blocks in an effort to maximize yardage. Bernard is an attacking back who forces the action. Once defenders commit, his quickness and vision take over and allow for the possibility of big plays.
Carrying/handling vs. fumbling: Bernard carries the football high and tight exercising the five points of contact. What really impressed me is that he carried the football high and tight even in the open field when attempting to make defenders miss. Open field running is when a ball carrier is most susceptible to losing the football due to pursuit of the football. When I stated earlier that his spin move was compact, I was referring to the fact that he holds the football close to his core which makes it difficult for defenders to rip the ball from him once he turns to face the defense again. Overall, Bernard takes very good care of the football.
Injuries: After missing his entire freshman season due to an ACL tear, Bernard has been relatively healthy for the majority of his collegiate career. This season he missed two games vs. Wake Forest and Louisville after sustaining a knee injury. Hopefully he can get past the sprained ankle he suffered vs. NC State and return for their matchup vs. Georgia Tech on Nov. 10th .
Character: Known as a hard working player, constantly looking to expound upon his game, Bernard is a favorite among the UNC coaching staff as well as his peers. Bernard has proven that he will lay down his body for his team, and it was never more apparent than this past weekend.
With overtime looming vs. NC State, Bernard was ailing from the nagging pain he had in his sprained right ankle. He was subsequently taken off the return unit until coach Fedora expressed to Bernard just how much his team needed him.
Bernard went right back on the field at his coach’s request and repaid Fedora for his faith in him with a game winning 74 yard punt return with just 13 seconds remaining. Injured, and with the game hanging in the balance, many would’ve folded their tent, but Bernard went out there and laid it all on the line for his team.
Overall: Bernard is a well-balanced back that does a lot of things very well. My previous assessment of Bernard went something along the lines of jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. After watching Bernard a little closer, I’ve determined that my original assessment stands true with the exception of one attribute; Bernard has elite level overall quickness.
Bernard is the best combination of balance, patience and quickness among draft eligible RBs for 2013. Being that Bernard is also very solid in pass protection and has very good hands out of the backfield, I have a hard time believing that he couldn’t be a three down back at the next level. Bernard also presents added value as a return man, however he occasionally has difficulty fielding high hanging kicks.
While I have concerns about Bernard’s ability to consistently get around end, he could very well flourish under a coaching staff that recognizes his skill set, utilizes spread principles and feeds him a steady diet inside zone plays. Nearly every year, the scouting community falls in love with well-rounded RBs like Bernard, such as Doug Martin, Donald Brown and Ray Rice to name a few. It is my belief that if Bernard is placed in the right scheme, he could have a Ray Rice like impact.
Though Bernard isn’t necessarily my flavor, as I believe he lacks athleticism necessary to be an elite level RB in the NFL, I recognize that he possesses the skill set that many front offices covet. I fully expect Bernard to be a late 1st round selection once the “ off-season circuit” (Combine, Pro-day and workouts) concludes.