Can you believe it's here again? Week one of the NFL season is upon us once again and the expectations surrounding the Bengals are high in 2014. After three promising seasons cut short in the playoffs, everyone is looking at this year's crew to take the next step.
Part of the formula for a difference this year comes with the change at offensive coordinator. Jay Gruden had the unit nearing the "explosive" category with a top-ten finish last year, but familiar mistakes kept rearing their ugly heads. The running game didn't have much to boast about in Gruden's three-year tenure, either, and that has become a focal point under new coordinator, Hue Jackson.
Gone is veteran running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and in is rookie second-round pick, Jeremy Hill. It's widely known that Hill will be sharing the workload in 2014 with second-year man Giovani Bernard, but the fantasy football buffs out there want to know the outlook:
@CJAnthonyCUI @CincyJungle how much use will Jeremy Hill get this year? Of course I am asking for fantasy purposes specifically #askanexpert— Kyle Beach (@beachsc11) August 9, 2014
Normally, this is a topic I touch on earlier than I am now. I wanted to make sure that I addressed it before the NFL kickoff on Thursday, for all the last-minute fantasy players looking to formulate their lineups. I'm also in a league with Kyle, who submitted the tweet and he has a tendency to grab up running backs, so I selfishly didn't want to tip my hand before our league's draft (Just kidding, Kyle).
My stance on Hill's workload and fantasy value has flip-flopped about three different times now. Initially, I thought that Green-Ellis might stick around and cut into carries--particularly in short-yardage and/or goal line situations, which is what he excels at. "The Law Firm" stuck on the roster longer than most expected, which is where that thought of mine spawned, but it appears that Hill is going to be in a "1A/1B" situation with Bernard.
Hill impressed throughout the entire preseason, though. In four games backing up Bernard, Hill amassed these numbers:
|Rushing Attempts||Yards Rushing||Yards Per Carry||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Total Touchdowns|
Obviously, two things jump out here: the amount of receiving yards and the lack of touchdowns by Hill. Yes, it's preseason football, so one shouldn't take all that much from it, but if anything, Hill has looked solid. He is running hard and embracing the role that Hue Jackson has carved out for him.
Speaking of Jackson, his new offense that is re-committing to running the football, definitely plays into Hill's fantasy value. The Bengals want to stop putting quarterback Andy Dalton into so many situations where he is forced to throw the ball so often and/or limit some of the backbreaking turnovers that he has committed in many of the big games in his short career. Leaning on two talented backs to chew clock and move the chains will accomplish that.
Looking at Bernard's rookie stats, he had 226 total touches--170 of which were carries. Green-Ellis' overall touches were almost identical at 224, and only four of those were of the reception variety. These numbers set a good barometer to work with when gauging Hill's touches and production.
So, if we are using the 225-touch mark as a standard for Hill this year (which might be conservative because of the changes in Jackson's offense compared to Jay Gruden), we are probably looking at 195 carries and 30 catches. Say that Hill is able to get to the 4.2 yards per carry mark, which is slightly below his preseason numbers, and Hill would have about 820 rushing yards. If he can get to about seven yards per catch, he would have 210 yards receiving.
The touchdown stats are where it could get interesting. Will Hill receive the bulk of the goal line carries now that Green-Ellis is gone? It would seem so, but the smaller Bernard showed an unexpected and impressive knack for finding the end zone on some short-yardage, tough-nosed plays. One thing to keep in mind about Hill is that the Bengals' coaching staff loved that he was big, but also had the ability to take a run or swing pass to the house. We might see some of those exciting plays from the 240-pounder this year.
Here are my projected stats for Hill, based on the elementary math I did above, along with averages:
|Carries||Rushing Yards||Rush TD||Yards Per Carry||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Receiving TD||Yards Per Catch|
I actually believe these to be bordering on the conservative side for Hill, particularly in the receiving game, but there just isn't a huge sample size. Most of his preseason work and production came in the final two games when starters rested. In fact, he only had nine carries and two catches in the first two games. While it's nice to see the workload trend pointing up, it may take the Bengals a couple of weeks to truly find their offensive groove.
In my humble opinion, Hill is likely going to be a so-so RB2, but a viable Flex option, if your league allows that. Look for his work to really take off in the later months of the year when the weather is bad and the Bengals will want to impose their will.