There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the running back class for the 2014 NFL draft. It is an interesting and somewhat polarizing group, but a less discussed name is actually the best of the bunch.
LSU's Jeremy Hill is the clear-cut most talented back in the entire class. The true sophomore has some major red flags, but that does not take away from his natural ability.
Guys like Tre Mason and Carlos Hyde get a ton of hype and others like Lache Seastrunk, Charles Sims and Bishop Sankey are also mentioned as favorites.
But Hill seems to get overlooked too often, and it's clear after watching his tape that he's the most well-rounded and talented runner this class has to offer.
Let's take a look at what makes Hill so good.
From a physicality standpoint, there is no more impressive back than Hill. He stands a bit over 6'0" tall and weighs 233 pounds.
He carries that weight very well, and is well-proportioned throughout his body. He's bulky and powerful without ever looking sluggish or soft.
Hill ran a little on the slower side at the combine with a 4.66 40-yard dash and 1.56 10-yard split, but combine numbers can be deceiving and his game is not about straight-line speed.
In his two seasons at LSU, Hill was very productive.
He had 142 carries as a freshman and averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per carry to give him 755 yards on the year.
Hill also had 12 touchdowns that season, meaning he scored once out of every 11.83 carries. He also had four games over 100 yards, including 124 against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
As a sophomore, Hill saw his workload increase and stepped up to the challenge. Despite having 203 carries, he averaged an SEC record 6.9 yards per carry.
That gave him 1,401 yards on the year, to go along with 16 touchdowns. He also pulled in 18 catches for 181 yards.
There's a lot of power coming from Hill's strong frame, but it takes more than just raw strength to be a powerful runner.
Hill has an edge about him, a competitiveness and nastiness that is evident throughout each and every game. It is what allows him to pick up some extra yards and occasionally push the pile for a first down or a score.
He's got the ability to bounce off people, and will also use stiff arms or lower his helmet and drive a defender backward.
There are also plays where he just seems impossible to bring down, like this one against Florida (starts at 4:47).
Hill also has functional power, which means that he isn't just hard to bring down when he plants himself in the ground, but can also run through tackles and keep his momentum forward.
This takes explosiveness, balance and determination, and Hill has all three of those qualities in spades, which gives him the ability to pull off runs like these.
Hill stays up after the initial contact, works his way through the hole and then gets out of there already in full stride.
That type of balance and power is huge for running backs in the NFL, and Hill has proven himself in this category throughout the past two years.
Hill has a lot of strength, which is not all that surprising considering his impressive frame and powerful lower body.
But what will surprise people is how athletic Hill is and how light he can be on his feet.
He has outrageously strong legs and a solid core that allows him to be both powerful and quick in small spaces. His athleticism is impressive for a guy who weighs 233 pounds.
For such a big guy, Hill is surprisingly agile and explosive. A lot of that comes from his excellent balance and determination.
Check out this play (starts at 2:53) and you'll instantly see what I'm talking about.
His pass-catching ability is solid, showing soft hands and the ability to adjust and bring in catches coming out of the backfield.
But then on that play Hill shows how he can turn upfield and get on his horse, going for a (largely successful) hurdle over a defender who is not bent over that much.
Catching passes is not the only way to show off athleticism, however. Check out this run against Alabama's vaunted defense as a freshman.
His vision and quickness in tight spaces is solid, and his ability to turn and get some yards laterally is impressive as well.
He shows the ability to make guys miss and has some jukes in the open field. Guys also have to be wary of his trucking ability, as Hill can use that to his advantage.
If a running back can keep defenders off balance, he wins. Hill does this consistently.
Hill is not a burner. He's not going to run away from faster defensive backs and some linebackers may track him down.
But anyone who thinks he does not have enough speed to make big runs or break out in the open field have not watched enough tape.
One of the bigger negatives about Hill does not really have anything to do with him: It's that LSU had a big, talented offensive line that opened some holes and made some runs "easy" for Hill.
But those holes also allowed Hill to prove that he's not a slow, short-yardage back. There are multiple occasions where he attacks a hole and explodes through it, and sometimes ends up outrunning everyone once he gets into space.
These two plays (first video start at 4:32 and second video at 0:33) show that Hill is capable of being a real game-breaker.
Don't underestimate Hill's acceleration and speed in the open field. He has more than enough of it to be a legit threat and every-down back in the NFL.
There is obviously a lot to like about Hill as a player. He's big, powerful, explosive, durable and gritty, which is everything a feature back needs to be.
But the red flags are prominent. Hill took the fall semester off after high school, which is why he can enter the draft as a true sophomore.
He has two arrests on his record, one for sexual assault and one for allegedly punching a man outside a bar. Hill has been proactive, writing a letter to all 32 teams about his arrests, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, but that doesn't change the facts.
Hill will be rightly looked at as a risk because of his past. He's a top-50 talent who won't be taken that high because of the character concerns.
But I would still probably take him in the second round, although I'd expect that he goes in the 80 to 100 (late third to early fourth round) range. Hill could end up being one of the biggest steals in the draft if he keeps everything in check as an NFL player.
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