Gio Bernard Fantasy Outlook: Can he be a useful commodity in the Buccaneers’ backfield?

Gio Bernard joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year, but can he become relevant for fantasy football in the 2021 NFL season?

Signing with the defending Super Bowl champions during the offseason, Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Gio Bernard’s fantasy outlook is somewhat uncertain due to playing in a crowded and talented backfield. With the question of his potential role and value in mind, should fantasy football managers consider drafting Bernard given his current ADP, or is he unlikely to return value?

Gio Bernard’s fantasy outlook for 2021

Typically, when you see a player change teams, it tends to be due to an expired contract or the franchise’s decision to move on. This time, however, it’s because the player wanted out. After asking one of their 2020 team captains to take a pay cut, Bernard decided his time in Cincinnati had come to an end. During his time with the Bengals (2013-2020), Bernard was a solid player.

Appearing in 115 games with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2013, Bernard rushed for 3,697 yards and 22 touchdowns. In addition, Bernard has hauled in 342 receptions for 2,867 yards and 11 scores. Bernard eclipsed 1,000 all-purpose yards in each of his first three seasons in the NFL. His reception total is actually the most in Cincinnati history for an RB and sits second in receiving yards. 

Sharing the committee with Joe Mixon

In his first four seasons, Bernard averaged 15 opportunities (rushing attempts plus targets) and 75 total yards per game from 2013 to 2016. The former UNC Tar Heel finished as an RB2 or greater in 54% of his games during that time frame. Nonetheless, the team drafted this guy out of a small school called Oklahoma who goes by the name of Joe Mixon, relegating Bernard to backup and pass-catching duties.

In his final season with the Bengals, Bernard played in all 16 games while making 10 starts as Mixon missed time due to a foot injury. He rushed 124 times for 416 yards while scoring 3 touchdowns. He was also a productive back in the receiving game as he had been over his career, hauling in 47 of 59 targets for 335 yards and 3 more touchdowns.

Bernard finished the season as the RB30 in PPR scoring but was 36th in points per game at 9.9 and 40th in points per opportunity at 0.86.

Bernard signed with the Buccaneers in the offseason

Deciding his time in Cincinnati had run its course, Bernard went south to Florida. But unlike many who make this trip, he did not go to retire. Instead, he now calls Raymond James Stadium home and shares his residence with Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. 

Bernard’s skill as a receiver is something the Bucs were missing last season. While Fournette and Jones can be used as pass catchers if needed, they are not a natural fit for the role. In contrast, this is what Bernard has done his entire career, with many drawing comparisons between him and James White as Tom Brady’s new receiving back.

Both Brady and head coach Bruce Arians have continuously praised Bernard for his attentiveness, professionalism, and his skills on the field, which has been reflected in his preseason usage. In Brady’s few preseason reps, it was Bernard who was in the backfield on both of his third-down situations. 

If Bernard is the primary receiving back as expected, this could be a productive role. From 2015 to 2019 with the Patriots, Brady targeted his running backs 21.1% of the time, ranking outside the top five just once. Even last season, Tampa Bay RBs combined for 19.6% (119) of the targets.

Bernard could be in line for more work than many are giving him credit for in 2021. And for fantasy football, especially PPR formats, he could be a viable option in some weeks. However, despite his utilization on third down and in the passing game, Bernard’s unlikely to have a start-worthy fantasy outlook without an injury to either Fournette or Jones.

Fantasy projection

The issue for Bernard is that the Buccaneers did what no Super Bowl champion had done before and brought back their entire starting roster on both sides of the ball, including both Fournette and Jones. Due to this, the Buccaneers enter the season with only 29 available targets and 12 unaccounted rushing attempts.

Jones averaged 16.7 opportunities per game and was the primary starter during the regular season. He finished as an RB2 or better in 57% of his games in PPR formats. Fournette led the team with 36 receptions and went ballistic during the playoffs with 448 total yards and 4 touchdowns. Vaughn only averaged 14 snaps per game in the seven he was active. He finished the season with 143 total yards and a touchdown.

Combined, they accounted for 289 (88.9%) of the Buccaneers’ 325 RB carries. It’s unlikely we see Bernard take a noticeable chunk of this away, relegating nearly all of his fantasy value to his involvement in the passing game. Due to this, his floor is the lowest of the three main backs.

Current projections have Bernard seeing around 40 carries for 150 yards and a score with most of his work coming as a receiver, recording approximately 40 to 45 receptions, 325 yards, and another score.

Gio Bernard’s ADP

According to Sleeper, Bernard is currently the RB52 with an ADP of 187.3 in PPR scoring formats. Meanwhile, on NFC (a high-stakes fantasy platform), Bernard’s ADP is 156.7 as the RB51. Lastly, his ADP on Fleaflicker is 166 (RB53).

Should you draft Bernard in 2021 for fantasy?

Even with his relatively low ADP compared to Jones and Fournette, Bernard is unlikely to return value (even in PPR formats). Without an injury ahead of him on the depth chart, there is not enough projectable volume to justify drafting him, let alone relying on him in fantasy. 

Given where he is going in drafts, you would be better served using that pick on players like Terrace Marshall, Gabriel Davis, Gerald Everett, Bryan Edwards, or Jalen Reagor. All of them have a similar ADP in PPR formats.

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read all of Tommy’s work here, listen to him on PFN’s Fantasy Football podcast, and check out his contributions in PFN’s free fantasy newsletter. Give him a follow on Twitter: @TommyGarrettPFN.

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