Cincinnati Bengals: Revisiting The Hill Over Hyde Pick

In 2014, the Bengals were in search of a complimentary running back. They drafted LSU product Jeremy Hill over Ohio native Carlos Hyde. Was it the right choice?

The Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC North in 2013, finishing with an 11-5 record. After a playoff loss to San Diego, they decided the 2014 NFL Draft would be the best time to address their backfield.

In the ’13 season, rookie Giovani Bernard exploded on the scene with 1,209 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns. However, the team’s leading rusher, Benjarvus Green-Ellis, managed just 756 yards on the ground and only one 20-plus yard run.

Cincinnati wanted to replace Green-Ellis, who was a reliable ball carrier but wasn’t going to turn any heads with any flashing gallops. After taking corner Darqueze Dennard in the first round, it was time to take a running back.

Long-time Bengal Ken Riley stood at the podium. He announced the Bengals’ selection of running back Jeremy Hill out of Louisiana State. Some fans were outraged, though. Still sitting on the board was Carlos Hyde, a local hero at Ohio State and Cincinnati-native who had just run for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season and an Orange Bowl trip.

Hill, on the other hand, had only played two seasons with the Tigers. He was coming off a stellar 2013 campaign, where he ran for 1,401 yards, 16 touchdowns, and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

Hyde was drafted two picks later (57th overall) by the San Francisco 49ers.

But did Mike Brown and company make the right decision?

The numbers

From a numbers standpoint, it seems the Bengals made the right call. What has set the two backs apart has been durability. In three seasons, Hill has missed just one game, which was the season finale just two weeks ago at Paul Brown Stadium. Meanwhile, Hyde has been injury-riddled in the same span.

2014: Ankle injury (missed two games)

2015: Fractured foot (missed nine games)

2016: Concussion, shoulder strain (missed three games)

While Hill has the advantage of durability. One also has to account for the opportunity both running backs have received.

During their rookie seasons, both Hyde and Hill were set to be backups. An injury to Bernard allowed Hill to burst on the scene in 2014 and he hasn’t relinquished the starting role since. During his rookie campaign, Hill revived a beat-up offense to run for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns, helping the Bengals win seven of their final 10 games to make the playoffs.

Hyde, though, was stuck behind Frank Gore, the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher. His rookie year ended with just 333 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.

Gore was dealt to Indianapolis prior to the ’15 season, but Hyde’s injuries and San Fran’s offensive shortcomings have caused him to miss out on being a top-tier back.

Here’s how they’ve fared

Hill: 47 games played, 667 carries, 2,757 yards, (4.1 ypc), 29 touchdowns, 7 100-yard games

Hyde: 34 games played, 415 carries, 1,791 yards, (4.3 ypc), 13 touchdowns, 3 100-yard games

The biggest difference that jumps out is Hill’s advantage in the touchdown department. Although he has not been able to ditto his rookie-year heroics, Hill’s red-zone acumen speaks for itself. His 29 rushing scores are the most in the NFL since he was drafted.

Another factor, besides injuries and opportunities, is the overall team record. It’s valid to say Hyde joined San Fran at the worst possible time. The Niners went to three conference championships and one Super Bowl in the three seasons before Hyde’s arrival. Since drafting him, however, they’ve gone 15-33 (0.313) while the Bengals have posted a 28-18-2 (0.583) mark.

It seems after the 2016 season was the best time to explore this debate. Hill was held to under 50 rushing yards in nine of 15 games. When he missed the regular-season finale against Baltimore, his backup, Rex Burkhead, turned heads with a 119-yard, two touchdown performance.

Meanwhile, the 49ers tied a franchise-worst record (2-14). But Hyde posted his best statistical season, finishing 36 feet shy of his first 1,000-yard season and the 5th-highest yards per carry average in the NFC (4.6).

Hill is dubiously remembered most for his playoff fumble against Pittsburgh. In a statistically poor bounce back effort in 2016, Hill didn’t fumble a single time on 241 touches. The same can’t be said about Hyde, who coughed up the pigskin five times on three more touches.

The decision

I’d like to point out that one of my biggest pet peeve in sports journalism is when an article poses a question and doesn’t reveal an answer. However, while writing this, I’ve concluded that there’s no clear-cut remedy to if the Bengals made the correct call choosing Hill over Hyde.

If you go by the numbers, it seems that Hill was the better option. If you look at last season’s totals, one might wish that Hyde was wearing stripes.

Much of Who Dey Nation wishes that Hill would slide down the depth chart. He will get another chance at a redemption season with 2017 being a contract year for the fan-acclaimed red-zone specialist.

Hyde is a 2018 free agent, too. But next season he will play his fourth straight with a different head coach after Chip Kelly was fired.

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