As the offseason kicks into gear, Jeremy Hill will be the subject of many discussions. His future with the Bengals has suddenly become cloudy.
Of everything that went haywire for the Cincinnati Bengals, the running game was the most evident. Jeremy Hill entered the season as the No. 1 back. But, as the year progressed, things never evened out for Hill. The consensus was unanimous. Evidently, Hill was suffering from the mythical sophomore slump in 2015. But, his 2016 performance took a severe blow also. With Rex Burkhead running like a man possessed, Hill will surely be under fire to bounce back next year.
In his first NFL start, Burkhead shredded the Baltimore Ravens for 119 yards and two touchdowns. His gashing style of running was refreshing. No Bengals running back has had such a good game in quite a while. Yes, Hill walked all over the Cleveland Browns for 168 yards in Week 7. But, it was the Browns. Cleveland’s defense finished the year giving up 142.7 yards rushing per game. Burkhead did his damage against one of the AFC’s best run stoppers (No.3 in the conference, per ESPN).
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So, what does the future hold for Mr. Hill? After electrifying the Bengals faithful during his rookie campaign, Jeremy has had two mediocre years. The showcase put on by Burkhead was truly an eye-opener. But, Hill is under contract, along with fellow running back Giovani Bernard. It’s safe to say that Bernard won’t be on the chopping block during the offseason. But, Hill is definitely going to be under the microscope.
Kicking Hill, while he’s down, isn’t going to score brownie points. But, the truth tends to smell like a victory when it’s analyzed. Yes, Hill was held out of the Ravens game because of an injury. Before the Week 17 battle, he had 839 yards rushing. Unless Baltimore took a siesta during the game, Hill wasn’t going to rush for 161 yards. That’s what he needed to get 1,000 yards for the year. Since rushing for 1,124 yards in 2014, the numbers have been average for Jeremy.
The cry has been that Hill hasn’t been given enough carries. He needs more touches to get going. There’s some truth to that theory. Most running backs need to get a feel for the game. But, in the Bengals offense, things haven’t really changed. In 2014, Hue Jackson allowed Hill to run 222 times. The next year, he got 223 rushes. In 2016, the number was back at 222 but with slightly better results than last season. Yet, Hill hasn’t been able to improve his yardage or average (3.8) since his rookie year.
Jeremy is still trying to figure some things out. He doesn’t know if he wants to be a speedy tailback or a bruising power runner. One thing is certain. If Hill is going to hold on to the starting job, he has to get decide who he is…quickly.
Is His Future With The Bengals?
With Burkhead looking like another New England Patriots candidate, this is the time for Hill to wake up. Rex is a humble and endearing kid who likes to play football. He’s stated that he wants to stay in the Queen City. But, the free agency demons are likely to toss tons of cash his way.
Gio is going to be recovering from a torn ACL. The rehab time is never quite what’s expected. In that time, the Bengals can look for a durable running back in the draft or solve the problem with Hill. In essence, it may be in Cincinnati’s favor to eat Hill’s contract and roll with Rex. But, that’s not how Mike Brown operates. Bengals fans will likely see Hill demoted to a third string position until he gets it together.
There’s the issue of the O-line being revamped most of the season. But, the same offensive line provided ample daylight for Burkhead. The former Nebraska back had 344 yards on 74 rushes for 4.6 yards per. In other words, he made the line look good. Maybe he took the guys out for a steak dinner. Didn’t Boomer Esiason do that?
In Jeremy’s defense, he was hit with the injury bug…hard. But, the overall decline in his performance is still a glaring jolt to the senses. The upcoming year will be another test. Jeremy vowed to lower his fumbles and ended the year with zero. He’ll have to step his game up to avoid fumbling the job as the starter.