For the second year in a row, the Cincinnati Bengals selected a running back in Round 2 of the NFL draft. In 2013, they took Giovani Bernard. This year's pick was LSU's Jeremy Hill, taken 55th overall.
Bernard added a speed component to the Bengals' run game last season. Though he had only 170 carries, he did have 695 rushing yards—giving him a 4.1 yards-per-carry average—as well as three runs of 20 or more yards and five touchdowns. He also had 56 receptions for 514 yards and three scores.
The Bengals' leading rusher last year was BenJarvus Green-Ellis, with 756 yards and seven touchdowns on 220 carries. He was less involved in the passing game than Bernard, with only four catches on eight targets for 22 yards.
|BenJarvus Green-Ellis & Giovani Bernard, 2013|
|Player||Rush Atts.||Rush Yds.||YPA||Rush TD||Rec.||Rec. Yds.||Rec. TD|
While it's believed that Hill could replace Green-Ellis in a year's time, with the veteran currently on the final year of his contract, Hill is poised to make an impact as a rookie. Green-Ellis and Bernard could remain the core of the Bengals' run game, but with Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator, opportunities for Hill to get carries will certainly be there.
Jackson was the offensive coordinator and then head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2010 and 2011. During those two seasons, the Raiders ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts per game—seventh in 2011 with 29.1 and fourth in 2010 with 31.5.
The Bengals were certainly run-heavy in 2013, ranking eighth with an average of 29.8 rush attempts per game. But with Jackson calling the plays, those runs will be more varied, more creative and more pronounced as the focus of the offense (NFL.com's Kevin Patra hints at it here).
In fact, Hill could surpass Green-Ellis for playing time this year. That won't likely result in Green-Ellis' release; ESPN's Adam Schefter (via Cincy Jungle) said, "There's no reason for the Bengals to get rid of BenJarvus Green-Ellis."
Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson went further, saying that Green-Ellis will be playing a reduced role this year ("You take running backs in the second round in back-to-back years and they're playing," Hobson notes), and if he's not interested in that, the Bengals could release him. But they have no plans to do so without him specifically requesting it.
Green-Ellis can certainly provide mentorship to Hill, who is a similar style of running back. And any run-heavy team will need more than just two young backs to rely on—Jackson himself has already said a team cannot have too much help in the run game.
|Jeremy Hill's LSU Stats|
|Year||Atts.||Rush Yds.||YPA||Rush TD||Rec.||Rec. Yds.||Rec. TD|
Further, Hill's litany of off-field concerns could resurface. Hill was arrested for sexual assault in 2011, to which he plead guilty in 2012. He also plead guilty to a battery charge in 2013 and is on probation until 2015.
Yes, Hill could have successfully put the past behind him. Yes, he provided all 32 NFL teams with a frank accounting of his past legal problems, as well as two pages of character references, before the scouting combine. And yes, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a successful track record working with troubled players and helping them stay on the right path.
But Hill's two arrests—and the terrible decision-making that led to them—mean that until he proves changed and reliable, Green-Ellis is a good player to keep around to provide both leadership and an element of insurance.
Also, reduced playing time for Green-Ellis could be a matter of simple math, and nothing more. If the Bengals want three backs to be involved in the run game this year, then Green-Ellis' carries will go down because of the time-share. It doesn't really matter—this year—that Green-Ellis and Hill are comparable running backs. However, it does soften the blow of losing Green-Ellis in free agency next year.
Having the three backs this season will give the Bengals options in the run game. Unless Green-Ellis asks for his release and the Bengals honor it, he, Hill and Bernard are set up well to be one of the most effective running back trios in the league. Hill may push Green-Ellis off the roster in 2015, but right now his job in Cincinnati appears safe.