It had been a while since the Cincinnati Bengals drafted two running backs, but the duo of sixth-rounders selected last month could make for an interesting competition this summer.
Cincinnati doubled up on running backs for the first time since 2013, taking Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams at No. 182 overall and Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson at No. 211. Giovani Bernard and Rex Burkhead were the last pair of running backs the Bengals took in the same draft, and both are still contributing to their respective teams – Bernard with the Bengals and Burkhead with the Patriots.
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Williams and Anderson, both natives of Texas, said they look forward to going through the settling in process together as rookies and locker mates. They began that adjustment period Friday and Saturday during rookie minicamp and come training camp they will be competing for the No. 3 position on the depth chart behind Joe Mixon and Bernard. The Bengals released third stringer Mark Walton last month after his third arrest. Walton signed with the Dolphins on Sunday.
“It’s always good when you’ve got people to bounce ideas off of and help learn the system and stuff like that,” Anderson said. “It also helps the competitiveness to stay up. It’s definitely a good thing I think.”
Both Williams and Anderson come with something to prove.
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Williams, an all-SEC first-team running back in 2018, wrote on Twitter after the draft that he was going to make the rest of the league pay for passing on him. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound back rushed for 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.
“The draft is extremely unpredictable,” Williams said. “I didn’t go as high as I wanted or as high as I was projected, but at this point, I’m not trying to prove the league wrong or anything. I just want to prove the Bengals right for believing in me. I just want to do everything I can for this organization.”
Anderson, whose three years at Oklahoma were marred by injury, could be considered the steal of the Bengals’ draft if healthy.
The 6-foot, 224-pounder broke his fibula covering a kickoff during the second game of his freshman year and had to have surgery to stabilize the bone and ligament that tore in his ankle. He fractured the C5 vertebrae in his neck that following summer and missed the entire 2016 season but bounced back with his only full campaign for the Sooners, rushing for 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns as Joe Mixon’s replacement in 2017.
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Anderson suffered a knee injury two games into last season after recording three touchdowns on 11 touches. He entered the offseason workout program still rehabbing but expects to be ready by training camp in July.
“It is what it is, but I definitely do wish I could be out there running around with everybody else, catching passes, taking handoffs, stuff like that, but it’s God’s timing,” Anderson said. “It will happen when it’s supposed to.”
Head coach Zac Taylor still exudes confidence in Anderson despite his injury history and said he can still benefit from learning the mental side of the Bengals’ system while everyone else is working on both that and the physical aspect of the game.
“He’s a guy that we thought highly of, with the stuff that he could put on tape when he did play in college,” Taylor said. “He’s in the rehab phase, and we knew that when we drafted him that he wouldn’t be practicing this offseason. He’s in there with Coach Singleton (Bengals running backs coach Jemal Singleton) getting the mental part of it down. I have no worries that he will be able to do that and continue with the rehab, and so when training camp rolls around we’ll see where he is at that point.”
For now, Anderson hopes to use the downtime watching and learning from Mixon, who he played with for two years at Oklahoma. Williams also noted his excitement to be in the same room with the 2018 AFC rushing leader. Mixon and Williams have the same agent.
While Anderson already has a personal connection with Mixon, Williams benefits from joining back up with Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner, who served in that role with the Aggies until this year.
“He’s a great guy, great coach,” Williams said. “He did great things for us at Texas A&M so being back here with him for the Bengals, I’m excited to work with him again and do big things.”
Anderson, for now, can only show his intelligence and ability to pick things up quickly on paper, but Williams already brings a lot of confidence to the field.
“(I’ll show) electricity, leadership and just style and swagger,” Williams said. “Guys gotta have confidence because if you have confidence you can affect the guys next to you and add a great vibe to the room.”
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “The opportunity is there. I’m excited that the Bengals gave me a chance to showcase what I have. I expect to have a Day 1 impact, and once I step on that field for it to be electric.”
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