By entering his name early in the 2013 NFL draft, Gio Bernard immediately improved a running back class that lacks first-round options.
Bernard, a redshirt sophomore from North Carolina, is at or near the top of his class in several mock drafts. Mike Detillier, creator and owner of the annual Mike Detilliers Draft Report, has Bernard as the No. 43 overall prospect in Aprils draft and No. 1 running back in the class.
Detillier said Bernard ranks above the other running backs in his class primarily for his versatility. He rushed for 1,228 yards this season for the Tar Heels while also totaling 490 receiving yards and an ACC-leading 246 yards per game.
He would grade out higher than (Alabamas) Eddy Lacy, who I suspect will come out, and Andre Ellington at Clemson. Right now, in this draft class of the people who have opted, he is my top running back, Detillier said. And he certainly is my top running back when I look at the senior class. (Wisconsins) Montee Ball is my top-rated senior running back but right now Bernard has a higher grade than what Montee does. Youd have to give him the nod. Hes head of the class.
Detillier noted that running backs have been devalued in the draft in recent years. Alabamas Trent Richardson went No. 3 overall last season, but another back wasnt taken until No. 31 when the Tampa Bay selected Boise States Doug Martin.
He has Bernard at an early- to mid-second round selection in a draft with strength at key defensive positions defensive end and linebacker.
He also notes Bernards health he tore his ACL during training camp of his freshman year and sat out two games this season with another knee injury.
You look at how he could fit in so many schemes because of his versatility, and I think hes certainly a good fit in the NFL, Detillier said. The big question mark will be long-term health and how much hell be able to hold up at the NFL level because hes been nicked up pretty good at the college level.
Detillier compares to Bernard to both Martin and David Wilson of the New York Giants only better.
Both of those guys got picked late in the first round, Detillier said. But hes a more versatile player than the two of them, and I think his ability to adapt to any scheme is going to be a huge plus for him.
Bernard was recruited to North Carolina to play in a pro-style offense that had not seen a 1,000-yard rusher since 1997. In his first season he rushed for 1,222 yards and was the top freshman in the nation in yards per game.
The following season, under new coach Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels switched to a spread offense he promised would be balanced.
Bernards strengths quickness, an ability to run inside and the moves to make people miss are enhanced by his ability to adapt.
The more you can do in the NFL, the better off you are, Detillier said. The NFL is looking for, especially at that running back position, an interchangeable part. Eventually what youd like to have with Bernard is a heavy-duty runner that you could alternate with him.
You could see him slide in with a team late in Round 1 looking for an all-purpose back. But my projection now, not knowing anything about offseason workouts, is early- to mid-second round.
And thats the thing. When you get him out there hes absolutely going to light it up. Hes an upper-echelon athlete in what he can do.
Jones: 704-358-5223; Twitter: @jjones9