LSU running back Jeremy Hill was a surprise selection for the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round of the NFL draft for many reasons.
Hill wasn't touted as a top back by many in the media before the draft began, but he was the second player off the board at that position. The 21-year-old played just two seasons of LSU because he was arrested on a sexual assault charge coming out of high school.
Positional value for a running back, especially one who seemingly wasn't expected to go at this stage of the draft, is very low in the second round. For Hill to justify his selection as the 55th-most valuable player in this draft, he will need to be very effective in a limited role.
That is because Giovani Bernard is expected to be the Bengals' feature back entering next season.
Bernard had an outstanding rookie season as he showed off the explosiveness to create big plays and the receiving ability to play a big role as a receiver. Most importantly, Bernard is able to stay on the field in goal-line situations because of his resiliency, low center of gravity and power.
With BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the roster as a serviceable, but unspectacular, backup, the Bengals really had no immediate need at the running back position.
Does that make this a terrible pick? No, it's too early to determine that. What it does suggest is that the Bengals really valued Hill and see him as someone who can immediately improve their offense on the field.
Improving the offense around the quarterback position is a clear priority for the Bengals this offseason.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Lownes projected that Hill would go in the fourth or fifth round:
A frustrating prospect to evaluate, Jeremy Hill flashes the talent necessary to be a feature running back in the NFL, but had the luxury of playing behind a physical offensive line that opened huge holes. Just a redshirt sophomore, he may have been better served staying in school and continuing to mature.
Although he is coming off a big season, character concerns could have an impact on his draft stock. He will need a strong organization to draft him in May, but has a chance to develop into a solid contributor.
The most important aspect of this pick that must be stressed is how he complements Bernard. Hill's 28 touchdowns in two seasons at LSU weren't simply a product of playing in a good situation, something he did do.
He has a lot of talent as a goal-line back who can score 10-plus touchdowns in a limited role.
Despite being listed at 6'1", 233 pounds, Hill has quick feet and can quickly build up speed behind the line of scrimmage. With his compact build, he is also able to burst through gaps in the line of scrimmage and fight forward with his momentum to break the goal line.
While Bernard can fill this role, it's much more practical for the Bengals to take the ball out of his hands in these kinds of situations. Keeping Bernard fresh to be the focal point of the offense takes the pressure off of Andy Dalton and gives the Bengals their best chance to succeed.
He is a role player, and he will likely remain a role player for the remainder of his career. Hill didn't show off the traits you look for in a receiving back during his time in college, partly because of usage, and he lacks another gear to take advantage of space on the second level.
While he is stronger than Green-Ellis between the tackles, he isn't much of an all-around upgrade because that added burst isn't there, and his vision is actually worse.
Green-Ellis has exceptional vision and has been successful for the Bengals because he has run behind a quality offensive line. Fortunately for Hill, he is inheriting that offensive line, but that doesn't mean he will dramatically improve on the production of the position.
Character concerns are a major issue, but the Bengals have historically shown that they can handle players who are deemed as problematic, and they will have done their homework on him to take him this high in the draft.
Like LeGarrette Blount, Hill will need to become a dominant player to not be labelled a bust or a reach. The Bengals must believe in his ability and character, but more pressing needs should have been addressed.
While the quality at defensive end or at the linebacker position has dropped off at this stage, there were still better options available. Kony Ealy, an athletic developmental defensive end, went a few picks after the Bengals chose Hill, and Telvin Smith, a potential starting linebacker, was still on the board.
The Bengals could even have doubled down on cornerback or invested in a talented quarterback instead of settling for a role player.
Each of those options would have either improved the team more in the short term or promised a lot more upside for the future.
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