The New York Jets will sign veteran running back Bernard Pierce for training camp. Pierce will take Zac Stacy's spot on the 90-man roster, after Stacy, who broke his ankle last season, failed a physical and was released.
The 25-year old Pierce is listed at 6-feet, 222 pounds, and was the Baltimore Ravens' third-round pick in 2012. Pierce made an instant impact with the Ravens in a backup role that saw him rush for over 500 yards in his rookie season and over 200 more in the playoffs, including a 100-yard game in a Wild Card win over the Colts. Since his rookie year, Pierce has been a disappointment and he barely contributed at all last year after having joined the Jacksonville Jaguars. He will be suspended for the first two games of this season due to a DUI arrest last March.
Let's recap Pierce's career so far and assess some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Note: Pro Football Focus exclusively provides some stats from this article.
Who is Bernard Pierce?
Pierce already has a connection with head coach Todd Bowles, having gone to college at Temple. He set several school records, the most impressive of which saw him rush for 27 touchdowns in a breakout junior season that also saw him rush for almost 1,500 yards. After entering the draft early, Pierce raised his stock with a good performance at the scouting combine and then ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his pro day.
As a rookie, Pierce did an excellent job backing up Ray Rice and rushed for 734 yards, including the postseason, while averaging five yards per carry. Pierce ran for 123 yards in a Week 16 win over the Giants, then 89 in the regular season finale before rushing for 103 in a first-round playoff win over the Colts. He ran for 107 yards on 27 touches in the Ravens' next three games en route to a Super Bowl victory.
Hopes were high that Pierce would be able to take on more of the load, but he had a rough second season, averaging fewer than three yards per carry. In 2014, with Rice gone and the starter role open, Pierce rushed for 96 yards in a September game, but then was again a disappointment over the rest of the season as Justin Forsett took the starting role. The Ravens cut ties with Pierce after his DUI arrest in March 2015 and Jacksonville claimed him off waivers. However, he gained just 18 yards on nine touches in the first half of the season before ending up on injured reserve with a calf injury.
359 carries, 1,345 yards, five touchdowns
32 catches, 171 yards
Three tackles (including one on special teams)
One fumble lost
One fumble recovery
Based on all the footage watched, here is what Pierce brings to the table, divided into categories:
Pierce has nice size, and his speed and explosiveness numbers at the combine were excellent, though his agility numbers were only average. At his pro day, he ran even faster (4.38) in the 40-yard dash, but considerably slower in both shuttle drills.
His burst and speed were instantly noticeable as a rookie when he came into the game fresh to replace the ageing Rice, but haven't been as apparent on film in recent seasons. He showed breakaway speed on a 78-yard run in his rookie season, although he was pushed out of bounds just before the goal line.
Other than a snap here and there in the slot, the Jaguars and Ravens lined Pierce up as a conventional running back.
Pierce displays good burst and is a decisive downhill runner. While he's not super-elusive, he has the ability to slip out of a tackle and keep his momentum going upfield. Naturally, most of his best highlights are from his rookie year, when he averaged five yards per carry (only 3.2 since). So, what happened?
Some believe he lacked preparation, although his lack of production in 2013 was partially attributable to poor offensive line play. That said, the line was much improved in 2014, but he still averaged fewer than four yards per carry.
Pierce's complete lack of production last season is alarming, but he actually made some plays in preseason that suggest he still has something left in the tank as he rushed for 86 yards on 18 carries and caught seven passes for 32 yards. That was highlighted by this spectacular play in which he emulated something he's done a few times in regular season action and hurdled a defender.
His longest run was a 41-yarder where he squeezed through a tight hole and broke into the open field. Other than that, he only averaged 2.6 yards per carry, but it's difficult to read too much into that when he was working primarily behind back-ups.
Pierce isn't particularly reliable as a pass protector, and the Jaguars used him as a pass blocker just a couple of times last season. He's only been beaten for one half-sack over the course of his career -- he didn't do a very good job of anchoring his base when picking up Takeo Spikes on a blitz, allowing Spikes to roll off his block to get to the quarterback. Last season, Pierce almost gave up a sack on a play where he lined up on the left side and failed to get over quickly enough to stop a blitzer off the opposite edge.
Twenty of Pierce's 32 catches came in 2013, along with 104 of his 171 yards. All of these were screens or dump-offs close to or behind the line of scrimmage, and he was sometimes able to make plays in space. Seven of his 27 receptions in his first two seasons went for a first down, but his career average is just 5.3 yards per catch and his longest reception was just 15 yards.
The Jaguars unsuccessfully looked for Pierce once on a deep ball last year, on a play where he lined up in the slot and ran a go route against Jamie Collins. He didn't really get any kind of separation and the ball was thrown behind him. That's the only time he's been targeted downfield in NFL action.
In college, he had just 19 catches in three seasons, including just three in his junior campaign. He made a few big plays though, averaging 9.4 yards per catch.
Pierce had one drop in each of his first three seasons. While he didn't have any last year, he was only targeted five times. He had one drop in preseason, showing poor concentration on a dump-off underneath.
As noted, most of the catches Pierce made were just dump-offs, so he hasn't been able to showcase much in the way of pass-catching prowess.
Fumbles haven't been a major issue for Pierce, although he was benched when he fumbled in the season opener in 2014. On that play, the Ravens were on their own 20-yard line and trailing by 12 late in the first half when Pierce had the ball stripped away from him as he fell forward at the end of a run.
Pierce has also fumbled twice in preseason action, including a Luke Keuchly strip in the backfield.
As expected for a player with such a high touchdown count when he was in college, Pierce is an asset in short yardage situations and has a nose for the end zone. He didn't get many of those carries with the Ravens, but five of his six touchdowns (one in postseason) came from inside the 5 with two being one-yard runs. He also had one short touchdown in a preseason game.
On such plays, he has shown an ability to move the pile or to make a good cut to find a lane to the end zone.
Pierce has been employed in a variety of roles over the course of his NFL career, whether blocking, covering kicks or rushing punts. He's never been a major contributor there, though, and doesn't have any real kick return experience, having fielded just one in college.
Pierce's most notorious special teams contribution came last season when he became something of a punchline by deciding to try and block an opposing player rather than tackle the punt returner. He later admitted to have been suffering from concussion-like symptoms and missed the next game.
Pierce seems to display good instincts. His vision, whether that was bouncing a run outside, making a one-cut cutback or in the open field, was impressive. He didn't seem to have many mental errors on the field.
Other than the concussion, which is a concern because he also had one in his junior year, Pierce had the calf injury last season to land him on injured reserve. He also had minor thigh, back, knee and ankle issues over the course of his first two seasons and was apparently troubled with nagging injuries as a college player.
Both the Ravens and Jaguars employ zone-blocking schemes, which are ideal for Pierce's one-cut style. The Jets do run plenty of inside and outside zones, so there should be a lot of plays that Pierce is familar with and which suit his skill-set.
On the whole, the Jets' blocking scheme is likely to be more varied than either of his two previous teams, so that might be a challenging adjustment for him at first.
The fact Pierce was arrested for a DUI last year is an immediate concern, but I expect the Jets have reassured themselves that he's ready to commit himself fully to the upcoming season, and I doubt they've made any kind of significant financial commitment to him. Back in 2014, he was also thrown out of a nightclub along with two teammates because of a collective "inability to maintain their composure."
The only time he's been flagged for a penalty in his career was a personal foul in his rookie season. On that play, he kicked out at a defender who wouldn't let him go.
Apparently when he left Temple, the coaching staff didn't have many positive things to say about a player who had constantly battled nagging injuries and then left early for the NFL. However, Baltimore's coaches were thrilled with his attitude, and that was also the case in Jacksonville, where he was apparently a good leader and did everything that was asked of him.
It's no surprise to see the Jets make a roster move on the eve of training camp. They've done this in each of the last three seasons, bringing in Braylon Edwards, Jason Babin and Austin Hill. On this occasion, the move provides them with veteran cover, which could be useful with Khiry Robinson still making his way back from an injury.
When Pierce was a rookie, he looked set to become a star. Baltimore's running back coach even referred to him as a "poor man's Adrian Peterson." Unfortunately for Pierce, he has been unable to deliver on that promise and, while he's still young enough to turn things around, he's realistically facing an uphill climb to make the roster.
If Pierce has his head screwed on right, then his talent is self-evident, even if he perhaps doesn't have what it takes to be a feature back at this level. It's a long-shot, low-risk move from the Jets, with little in the way of downside. The difference between the current regime and the one that preceded it is that such moves would represent some of the main signings of the offseason under John Idzik, whereas here it's clear the current regime is just hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. They probably won't, but it's worth a shot.