NEW YORK —
"It might as well be me," he said. "They're all great players. I think we all had pretty good years. It's just nice to see guys coming out of college and having such an impact right away."
Bernard, the Bengals running back who redefined the term "highlights," is going to be in the crowd here Saturday after he walks the red carpet at the NFL Honors bash (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) when the Associated Press NFL Rookie of the Year presented by Pepsi Next is handed out. Bernard is a decided underdog on a nominees list of Packers running back Eddie Lacy, Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso.
What hurts Bernard is that in compiling the best season by a Bengals rookie running back since Corey Dillon 16 years ago with 1,209 scrimmage yards, he was a jack of all trades and master of none. And that's exactly what the Bengals want from him.
A 5-foot-9, 205-pound dynamo out of North Carolina, Bernard, 22, led all rookie running backs with 56 catches. But Lacy, Zac Stacy of St. Louis and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell had more rushing yards, Allen had more catches (71) and as many touchdowns (8), Patterson led the NFL in kickoff return average with two touchdowns, and Lacy led all rookies with 11 TDs. When the dust cleared, Bernard was third in total scrimmage yards among rookies behind Lacy and Bell.
Still, a pretty good year when you consider it was more versatile and spectacular than Cincinnati's two previous rookie of the year seasons. In 1985 wide receiver Eddie Brown had 942 yards and eight TDs on his 53 catches and in 1992 wide receiver Carl Pickens had 26 catches for 326 yards and a touchdown.
And with his running backs coach, Hue Jackson, getting promoted to offensive coordinator, Bernard can expect a bigger workload this upcoming season than his 226 touches from 2013.
"I don't look at it like getting more touches or more carries or anything like that,' Bernard said. "I'm trying to get better at whatever they ask me to do. I'm not the type of guy that looks at the number of plays, but I'm trying to absorb what I have to get done."
Bernard, 22, is excited about Jackson's promotion and notes that the Bengals have "bought into" the system that Jackson is keeping from Jay Gruden. And, yes, he has briefly looked at the play that changed the wild card game. It's hard to see how Bernard could have avoided the fumble from behind forced by Chargers linebacker Donald Butler at the last instant as Bernard began to tuck away a go-ahead touchdown catch.
"I watched it; I didn't go in depth," Bernard said. "Things happen and you try not to let them happen, but they happen."
It is the proverbial case of the Bengals wouldn't have made it to that point without him.
"It should be interesting," Bernard said of Saturday. "It's one of those things it's OK if I win it or don't win it. It's an honor to be mentioned."