Can Jeremy Hill Become the NFL’s Leading Rusher in 2015?
Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in the first quarter in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Jeremy Hill was simply sensational in 2014. The rookie running back brought life to the Bengals’ offense when it experienced injuries and gave it a dynamic that it had been missing, a large dominant running back. Hill’s imposing size, 6’1″, 238 pounds, allows him to push piles and punish would-be tacklers to gain those vital extra yards; Giovani Bernard simply doesn’t possess the necessary power to do so. Hill’s presence invigorated his blockers who responded in mauling fashion. So now that Jeremy Hill has been given the lead back role, can he charge his way to the top of the NFL’s rushing list?
Doing so would obviously require great skill from Jeremy Hill. During his rookie season, he proved to have the necessary speed, power, vision, and patience to be a complete and dominant running back in the NFL; most of those qualities can be seen on this touchdown run against the Broncos.
Once taking over as the Bengals lead back, Jeremy Hill really began to dominate opponents. In his six starts where he was clearly the featured back, Hill rushed 133 times for 756 yards (5.7 yards/att) and five touchdowns. This kind of effort put him well above anyone in the NFL, as far as yards/attempt goes during this time span. Hill averaged 126 yards/game over this time span. Had he done that for an entire season, he would’ve finished as the NFL’s fifth all-time single season rushing leader. Obviously this kind of season is more than presumptuous, but it does serve to highlight how effective Hill can be. But becoming a leading rusher takes more than just great skill from a running back, it takes a team effort and Jeremy Hill certainly doesn’t lack the necessary help around him.
His offensive line was dominant this past season and only improved when Hill stepped into the backfield’s lead role. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth ranks amongst the best at his position. He’s displayed great power and an ability to pull for blocks when necessary. His counterpart on the left side, Clint Boling, has shown this same penchant for pulling in the power running game; he arguably had his best season in 2014. Center Russell Bodine is a work in progress, but showed flashes of his strength and ability to seal power powerful tackles during his rookie season. And on the right side, little needs to be said about the mauling ability of both Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith. The Bengals certainly have the necessary offensive line to get the job done for Hill.
More than this, the Bengals have some great blockers elsewhere. Most notably was another breakout rookie in Ryan Hewitt. Although Hewitt won’t get the recognition he deserves as a blocking fullback, his ability to block in space and lead Jeremy Hill through the hole was responsible for a ton of significant gains this year. In 2015, Hewitt’s blocking ability will aid the Bengals both from the fullback and tight end position especially if the Bengals choose to move on from Jermaine Gresham; Gresham’s loss should motivate the Bengals to sign another quality blocking tight end such as Matt Spaeth who did a great job for the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell this past season. It’s possible the team could invest in another fullback option in the draft and move Ryan Hewitt to tight end permanently; Jalston Fowler anyone?
The Bengals’ passing game will also be of assistance to Jeremy Hill progression in 2015. Although no one is calling Andy Dalton an elite passer, his receivers, most notably A.J. Green, demand attention from the secondary. Marvin Jones‘ return to the lineup will give the Bengals two legitimate deep threats (along with Green), which will force defenses to spread out. This will give Jeremy Hill more room to work with and less defenders to deal with when pushing for the extra one or two yards he always seems to gain after contact.
But the most significant advantage Jeremy Hill has is offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. After the Buffalo Bills chose to sign Rex Ryan as their head coach, Jackson’s return to Cincinnati became possible. It should leave both fans and Hill rejoicing as his ability to design an effective running game is unquestionable. One only needs to look to Jackson’s last three seasons as either an offensive coordinator or head coach. In Oakland, Jackson helped the Raiders become the league’s second and seventh best rushing offense in 2010 and 2011 respectively; of note, 2011 probably would’ve been even better had Darren McFadden not gotten injured after just seven games.
Best of all, Hue Jackson’s offenses haven’t required strong quarterback play. In Oakland, Jackson employed a combination of Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell, and Carson Palmer, ironically all former or current Bengals, and still managed to develop a strong running attack. This means that Jackson may very well help improve upon 2014’s sixth place finish amongst NFL rushing attacks regardless of who the passing game performs.
With a likely improved defense in 2015, the offense should see more opportunities with the ball. And with the team utilizing a power running system, it’s appropriate to assume that Jeremy Hill will receive enough carries to give him the opportunity to become the NFL’s leading rusher. With the necessary offensive tools around him, fellow running backs who are capable of not wearing him out, and an effective coordinator to boot, Jeremy Hill very well could rise to new levels of stardom and take the NFL’s rushing crown in 2015.
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