Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) celebrates with running back Giovani Bernard (25) 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: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
In our second installment of “The Best of the 21st Century” series, we have come across one of the most competitive positions in Bengals history: running backs. There have been running backs who suffered through the dark days of the team (Corey Dillon), running backs who have thrived in the Bengals revival (Rudi Johnson, Cedric Benson, Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill) and total busts (Chris Perry). In my opinion, the best running back for the Bengals in the 21st century is Corey Dillon.
Dillon burst on the scene for the Bengals after being drafted 43rd in the 1997 NFL draft. He was sharing carries with Ki-Jana Carter in 1997 and still accrued 1,129 yards with 10 touchdowns. Once Carter went down in the 1998’s opener with a fractured wrist, Dillon was elevated to the starter position. Carter was eventually released by the team in 2000.
Dillon really hit his stride in the early 2000’s, with second highest rush yards of his career with 1,435 yards and 7 touchdowns occurring in 2000. He has been remembered the most for his iconic performance on October 22, 2000 against the Broncos. He broke Walter Payton’s single game rushing record of 275 yards against the Vikings in 1977. Dillon ended up with 278 yards against the Broncos, providing a rare highlight in the awful 2000 season.
Dillon finished his Bengals career after a disappointing injury-filled 2003 season with only 541 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was finally traded in 2004 to the New England Patriots for a second round pick once Rudi Johnson became the featured back for the Bengals.
Rudi Johnson, in my opinion, was the strongest competitor with Dillon on the “Best of the 2000’s” list. He had three seasons in a row of solid production, with his highest point being 1,458 yards in 2005. Yet during 2007, his numbers dropped due to injury for only 497 yards and 3 touchdowns. He joined the Detroit Lions in 2008 for his last season in the NFL.
For the future, Jeremy Hill certainly has the opportunity to become a star for the Bengals with his breakout rookie year. Hill accrued 1,124 yards with 9 touchdowns in 2014 season. He has the ability to be a Corey Dillon type of player, but he has one major obstacle that stands in the way: new NFL trends. In the NFL, it has become extremely important to have a two back setup. Most teams try to rotate between two running backs, to preserve bodies and to limit carries. Due to this recent change in NFL philosophy, I don’t believe Hill will get the touches necessary to match Dillon’s production.
Corey Dillon has been looked upon unfavorably by Bengals fans, due to his demand to be trading out of Cincinnati in 2004. Long story short, however, is that Dillon helped to provide something for Bengals fans to cheer for throughout the dark days.