The Bengals play the 49ers on Sunday in Santa Clara. They’re hoping to win their third-straight game after starting slow for a second consecutive season. Cincinnati placed rookie running back Chase Brown on injured reserve on Saturday with a hamstring injury. He’s out for at least the next four games.
The Bengals play the 49ers, Bills, Texans and Ravens over the next month. They’re 0-3 against the AFC. Finding a way to go at least 3-1 during that stretch is crucial. Adding running back help should be at the top of their priority list. Joe Mixon can still be an effective player, but they need another option in the backfield.
Guys like Dalvin Cook, AJ Dillon, Cordarrelle Patterson and Antonio Gibson are realistic options if the Bengals want to make a deal. Former Pro Bowler Leonard Fournette is still a free agent. He’s also a realistic option.
What players are unrealistic? Are there any players that they could target that would give their offense the boost it needs down the stretch?
Here are three running backs that could fit that description. The Bengals should inquire about these guys, even if it costs them a valuable draft pick in the 2024 NFL Draft:
Ekeler is in the final year of his contract. He’s only appeared in three games and made it known that he was unhappy this offseason. The Chargers are 2-4 on the year and while they’re hoping to rebound, the Bengals should call about Ekeler’s services.
He’d be a perfect fit in Cincinnati’s offense. He’s an elite pass catcher out of the backfield and one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL. Parting with a third or fourth round pick for Ekeler may sound crazy to some, but he’s a dynamic player.
Would the Chargers be willing to deal him? Probably not. That could change though, especially if they lose to the Bears on Sunday night. Inquiring about Ekeler’s availability makes sense, even if it’s wishful thinking. Stevenson is under contract through the 2024 season. He’s a strong, quick runner that moves with power and has good hands out of the backfield.
It would likely cost the Bengals a third or fourth round pick to land Stevenson, but they could ask the Patriots to throw in Hunter Henry for good measure. Stevenson isn’t a star, but he’s capable of doing everything the Bengals want from their running back. Given his age, production and contract, the Patriots may not want to part with him, but Cincinnati should at least kick the tires on the former fourth round pick.
Henry is probably the most available of this trio of running backs. He wouldn’t be a perfect fit in Cincinnati’s offense, but he would bring a level of physicality and explosion to the Bengals’ backfield.
He’s in the final year of his contract. Like Ekeler, the Bengals could trade for Henry with their 2024 draft capital and potentially get a compensatory selection in return for the 2025 NFL Draft if that player signs elsewhere in free agency.
The Bengals are projected to have nine draft picks (two compensatory) in the 2024 NFL Draft. Parting with one of those picks in exchange for a top running back makes sense and could turn their biggest weakness into a strength.