Rookie recap: Cincinnati Bengals RB Jeremy Hill


Jeremy Hill was part of a lethal Cincinnati Bengals rushing attack during his rookie season, and the organization has big plans for the former LSU star in 2015.

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Bishop Sankey may have come off the board first during the 2014 NFL Draft, but there is no question that Jeremy Hill was the best rookie running back in the league last year. The LSU product enters his sophomore season with much heavier expectations riding on his shoulders.

After being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round with 55th overall pick, Hill exploded for 1,124 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, becoming the franchise’s first rookie to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Corey Dillon did so nearly 20 years ago.

The hype is at an all-time high for the Bengals’ running back, with ESPN going so far as to rank him the fifth-best back in the NFL heading into the season. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is not worried at all about the increased expectations, and he challenges Hill to embrace them.

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"“We can’t run from it because they’re going to say it,” Jackson told ESPN. “Now you’ve got to go live up to it. There should be no pressure in that. All it is is to go out and work. To me, if a guy wants to be great, he’s got to relish that. He’s got to want that and then go exceed it. That would be my challenge to [Hill]. I expect him to exceed whatever the expectation is about him.”"

For Hill and the Bengals, however, the measuring stick for success will have much less to do with individual success and more to do with putting an end to a playoff drought that dates back to 1990; before Hill was even born. If he can play a major role in turning the organization’s playoff fortunes around, it will go a long way in cementing his legacy in Cincinnati.

We recently spoke with David Petrocelli of Stripe Hype to help us gain a better understanding of what Jeremy Hill’s breakout freshman campaign means for the Bengals, as well as what to expect from the former Tiger this season.

Next: LSU football: 5 players poised for a breakout season in 2015

What was your initial reaction when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Jeremy Hill? Did you feel like he was a steal at the end of the second round?

My initial reaction was confusion. Not because Jeremy Hill wasn’t a good back, but rather because of the way the Bengals boasted about Giovani Bernard’s promise.  I simply thought the Bengals would look to use Bernard as a three-down back.  And with that said, drafting Hill meant a change in offensive philosophy.  Now we have a run-heavy, potentially dominant “ground and pound” system.  The Bengals have chosen to let their offensive weapons in the backfield do the heavy lifting while Dalton, and hence the receivers, take a backseat to their dynamic ground duo, which is an ironic labeling considering Bernard’s skills as a receiver.

As for a steal yes and no.  Until this year, running backs were generally scheduled to go in the second round, so his draft position is reflective of that.  Given Hill’s talent, and with unavoidable hindsight at this point, I think it’s clear that Hill was ahead of his time.  Rookies Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon are going to have to have some special years, which they are capable of, to match Hill’s second half of 2014, wherein he was the NFL’s most prolific rusher.  Hard to argue that he wasn’t a bargain at No. 55.

What was Hill’s most valuable asset to the team in 2014? 

Hill offered the team a running back who could carry the offense, and he offered Hue Jackson, the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, the opportunity to play to his stengths and emphasize the run.  Jackson controlled Oakland’s offense back in 2010 and 2011, and they featured one of the NFL’s most prolific run games.  One could argue they would have led the NFL in 2011 if not for Darren McFadden suffering an injury.  Hill allows Hue to do what he does best, emphasize the run.

How vital was his role in the Bengals’ playoff run last year?

Hill took the run game by storm and really changed how the Bengals approached opponents on offense. It represented an improvement for the Queen City’s finest.  The Bengals went 6-3 over their last nine games; albeit, they lost their Wild Card date with Andrew Luck and Co. For reference, they went 4-2-1 over their first seven games, so take that how you will.

The offense looked confident and effective.  The offensive line had the opportunity to play to its strengths, pun intended, and the offensive coordinator was able to emphasize his strengths, as did their quarterback.  It’s a win-win, and by all accounts the unit will only be better this year, as they get tight end Tyler Eifert and 2013 standout Marvin Jones back.  The 2015 offensive game plan revolves around Jeremy Hill, and I expect the offense to flourish because of it.  I mean, he was the NFL’s most prolific rusher over the second half of the 2014 season, right?  Seems he was pretty vital.

What stood out to you the most from his rookie season?

His strength.  Hill could pulverize opponents into submission (he averaged 5.1 yards/carry last year on 222 attempts) while also possessing the ability to break 85-yard touchdown runs like he did on Monday Night Football in Week 16 against the Denver Broncos. He also had two 60+ yard runs earlier in the season.  It shows Hill can be a “bell cow” back for this team, which is good news for all.  You have to be an extremely strong runner to average 5.1 yards/carry, and Hill is just that. Opponents should be concerned by the way, Hill is getting stronger.

What is your way-too-early prediction for Hill’s performance next season?

It goes without saying that I expect Hill to be one of the NFL’s most prolific runners in 2015; of course I offer the standard “barring injury” wherein he’d ironically become the next Darren McFadden (god help all Bengals fans).  Being more precise, I see Hill going for 1,400+ yards and 14+ touchdowns.  And let’s not discount what he does in the passing game.  Hill can be a very effective blocker, and isn’t bad as a receiver either after averaging 8 yards per reception last year on 27 catches.  It shows he’s far from a liability in this part of the game, and he only stands to flourish in this regard with work and experience.

Yes, I have confidence in Jeremy Hill, but let’s also appreciate the outstanding offensive line in front of him who benefits from another year of experience together, while all are either playing at their peak or continuing to develop as young players. Expect a big year from right guard Kevin Zeitler.

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