Area NFL Draft coverage: Gio Bernard goes to Cinci in 2nd round

Apr. 26, 2013 @ 11:39 PM

Giovani Bernard’s decision to enter the 2013 NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore appears to have paid off.

Bernard was the first running back taken when he was selected 37th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals Friday night.

“I obviously believe in the gifts that God gave me, but at the same time there’s a lot of great backs out there,” Bernard said. “You can’t really do too much other than leave it in God’s hands, and I guess you could say He really took care of me today.”

It marked the highest selection for a UNC runner since Ethan Horton was picked 15th overall in 1985.

Bernard turned pro with two years of eligibility remaining after earning third-team all-America honors this past season.

“It was a dream in front of me, the opportunity to play in the NFL,” Bernard said. “Something you’ve been working for all your life, it’s hard to pass up when you have the opportunity right in front of you.”

Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals was one of two NFL head coaches who came to UNC’s pro day, and his staff took the lead when it came to putting the Tar Heel running backs through specific drills.

Cincinnati running backs coach Hue Jackson said the coaches were impressed with Bernard’s versatility.

“The guy knows how to score touchdowns, and he’s a threat anytime he touches it, whether he’s running with the ball or catches it,” Jackson said. “I think (he’s) really a complete football player. I think he can do it all.”

Jackson said he wasn’t concerned with Bernard’s injury history. The Davie, Fla. native tore the ACL in his right knee as a freshman, and missed two games earlier this season with an undisclosed injury to his left knee.

“He came out of that with flying colors,” Jackson said. “Young man’s checked out perfectly and he’s ready to go.”

Bernard rushed for a UNC freshman record 1,253 yards, and followed that up this past season with 19 touchdowns in 10 games and a single-season school record of 198.1 all-purpose yards a game. He totaled 1,228 rushing yards, 490 receiving yards and a nation’s-best 16.4 yards per punt return.

The Bengals have an established back in between-the-tackles runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who gained 1,094 yards last season, so the 5-8, 202-pound Bernard may start his career as a change-of-pace option.

“It’s all up to Coach Lewis,” Bernard said. “At the end of the day, wherever they want to put me at, I’ll definitely try my best at that position. Whatever that is. Whether they want to put me in the slot and run it out from there, I’ll try that. If they want to put me in the pistol, whatever it is, I’m just ready to take that roll and run with it.”

Bernard gave UNC three of the first 37 picks in 2013, the Tar Heels’ best performance since they had three first-rounders in 1998. On Thursday, the Cardinals took guard Jonathan Cooper with the seventh pick, while the Broncos took defensive tackle Sylvester Williams at No. 28.

UNC added a fourth pick when another one of Bernard’s blockers, senior right tackle Brennan Williams, was taken in the third round (89th overall) by the Houston Texans — four rounds better than his father, Brent Williams, a defensive end who played for the Patriots from 1986-93.

Williams earned honorable mention All-ACC despite missing the final four games after shoulder surgery.

“I’ve been looked down upon most of my career,” Williams said. “I look forward to getting in and cracking some heads.”

The West Roxbury, Mass. native had a career-high 23 knockdown blocks when UNC ran for 339 yards against Virginia Tech.

“He likes to put people in the ground and wear them out,” Texans offensive line coach John Benton said. “He did that consistently. Makes it fun to watch film of him.”

Williams shares an agent with Texans backup quarterback and former UNC starter T.J. Yates. It was the second time in three years that the Tar Heels had four players selected through three rounds.

N.C. State also had two players drafted on Friday, with cornerback David Amerson going in the second round (51st overall) to the Redskins, who finished 30th against the pass last season, and quarterback Mike Glennon being taken in the third round (73rd overall) by the Buccaneers.

The Bucs’ incumbent starter is 2009 first-round pick Josh Freeman, who set franchise records with 27 touchdowns and 4,065 yards passing but is entering the final year of a five-year contract.