This is the 29th in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: Once again, the Bengals are left with a decision on whether to re-sign Benson, who has been their featured runner the past four seasons. They have signed him to three contracts, the first in '08, the second in '09 and the third last summer. The 29-year-old Benson, as he had in his previous two full seasons with Cincinnati, exceeded 1,000 yards rushing, racking up 1,067 yards and six TDs on 273 carries. Clearly, Benson can handle a heavy workload; the question is, do the Bengals want him to continue to receive the bulk of the carries or to find another primary tailback?
Notes: In Cincinnati, Benson began to live up to some of the promise he showed as a star at the University of Texas, rushing for 4,176 yards and 21 TDs in four seasons. His best season came in 2009, when he rushed for 1,251 yards in just 13 games for a club that won the AFC North. Benson was the focal point of that offense, but the passing game took center stage in 2010, and Benson's carries per game declined from 23.2 in '09 to 20.1. His workload fell further in '11, as he received 18.2 carries per game.
Positives: The 5-11, 227-pound Benson is a strong, competitive back who wants the ball. He can get the tough yards inside the tackles and has enough speed to break a longer run now and again. His durability is a strength — he missed only three games because of injury in his four seasons in Cincinnati.
Negatives: Benson turns 30 in December, and he has received a lot of work in his Cincinnati tenure, so his long-term viability as a featured back is a potential concern. Also, Benson just isn't much of a big-play threat. In the past two seasons, he has averaged one rush of more than 20 yards for every 99 carries. His fumbling is something of an issue. He had five in a two-game stretch last season and has fumbled 12 times in the last two seasons. Benson has never been heavily involved in the passing game during his NFL career, a negative as the league gets increasingly pass-happy. What's more, Benson served a one-game personal-conduct suspension last season and had had some off-field incidents during his career. Finally, whether Benson would be happy in a part-time role — something he could be asked to play if he leaves Cincinnati — is something that interested teams will need to weigh.
Risk factor: Moderate. Benson is a two-down power back who can wear down a defense. He received a lot of work with the Bengals, but it's unclear whether such a heavy workload would be given to him anywhere else. He eventually could transition from starter to closer, getting 10-12 carries per game and grinding out tough yards late in games.