Bengals will try to upgrade their running backs in 2017 draft

Leonard Fournette would fit in well with the Bengals, who will make running back a priority in the draft. Christopher Brashers/Icon Sportswire

CINCINNATI -- Now that the Cincinnati Bengals are two weeks into free agency, they have a more accurate picture of how the roster will look heading into the 2017 draft.

We're taking a look at each position, how it changed in free agency and where it stands now.

Previous entries: Specialists, Tight Ends


Current roster: Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Tra Carson, Cedric Peerman

Departures: Rex Burkhead

State of the position: The Bengals rushing yards-per-game average has declined from its peak season of 134.2 yards-per-game in 2014 to 110.6 yards-per-game in 2016.

The offensive line had one of its worst seasons in 2016. Hill also dealt with injuries all season, and Bernard tore his ACL in the latter half of the year. Those were all potential reasons for the dropoff.

Clearly, the position needs some sort of jolt going into next season.

The Bengals will make a running back a priority in the 2017 draft, perhaps even in the first round. Leonard Fournette, projected to go high in the first round, and controversial running back Joe Mixon, are two potential options at that position.

What does that mean for the two starters already on the roster?

Hill and Bernard play two different roles, with Bernard, 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, used as a change-of-pace back who excels in catching passes. Hill, 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, is more of a power running back.

Mixon or Fournette type could fill either one of those roles, as both can also be used as pass-catchers. Both are bigger running backs who could essentially do it all.

Even if the Bengals don't end up with one of those two backs, they'll add a back at some point. Hill has one year left on his rookie contract, while Bernard has three years left on the extension he signed in 2016.

It's hard to say how exactly a new running back would fit in, or if the Bengals are looking to move on from Hill after this season, but for this season at least, it would likely be a free-for-all competition in training camp with Bernard, Hill, and a yet-to-be-named running back all sharing snaps in 2017.