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Could Jeremy Hill be fumbling away his place in the NFL?

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After a huge rookie season and an 11 touchdown sophomore campaign, it sounds crazy to suggest Hill's spot on the Bengals, let alone the NFL is in jeopardy, but the numbers show Hill is fumbling at an alarming rate.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday night, the Bengals were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the fifth time in five years, sixth time in the last seven and seventh time in the last 10 years. However, unlike seasons past, the Bengals had this one in the bag...until they fumbled it away - er, Jeremy Hill fumbled it away.

Was Hill's fumble the sole reason the Bengals lost? Of course not. But, with a one point lead and the ball - on the Pittsburgh 26 yard line, all that stood between the Bengals and a place in the Divisional Round for the first time in 25 years, was one first down, or three runs and a field goal/punt. As long as the Bengals didn't fumble, they would be playing New England one week later in Foxboro. But, as we all know by now, the Bengals sat at home this weekend because on first down, Jeremy Hill failed to secure the football and 83 seconds later, it was the Steelers, not the Bengals, moving on to the Divisional Round, leaving the Bengals and their fans looking for an explanation of what just happened.

To me, the most disturbing part of the loss was Hill's fumble and what it means going forward. I mentioned it at the beginning of the season and I mentioned it after the game, Hill has a fumbling problem, and unless the Bengals can get it under control, his future on this team has to be in question.

Hill had a great rookie season and going into 2015, many (myself included), believed this would be the breakout season for the second year back where he would establish himself as a top five back in the NFL. Not only did Hill fail to have a breakout season, he had the most disappointing season on the team, if not the entire NFL. Despite being top 10 in carries (235 - 9th) and being tied for first in the NFL with 11 rushing touchdowns, Hill saw his yards drop to just 844 and his YPC drop from 5.1 (3rd in the NFL) to a pedestrian 3.6 (t-39th). Most disturbing was Hill's continuous problems with ball security. Because Hill had such a great rookie season, his ball security issues went under the radar in 2014. Last year, only one player (Joique Bell) had more fumbles than Hill's four. In 2015, Hill had four fumbles again, and again found himself in the top three in the NFL as far as fumbles go. In fact, take a look at the Hill's trends over his first two years:


2014

2015

2014-2015

Carries

222 (13th)

235 (9th)

457 (6th)

Yards

1,124 (8th)

844 (16th)

1,968 (5th)

YPC

5.1 (3rd)

3.6 (t-39th)

4.3 (18th)

Fumbles

4 (t-2nd)

4 (t-3rd)

8 (1st)

F/Carry

1.80% (6th)

1.70% (9th)

1.75% (6th)

F/100 yds

.356 (9th)

.474 (8th)

.407 (6th)

TDs

9 (t-3rd)

11 (t-1st)

20 (1st)

Other than the touchdowns, he is trending the wrong way and his fumbles are not getting better. Hill is 6th worst in the NFL in terms of the rate at which he fumbles. The only running backs that are fumbling at a rate higher than Hill's 1.75% are Ryan Mathews (3.77%), Ameer Abdullah (2.80%), Matt Jones (2.78%), Melvin Gordon (2.72) and James Starks (2.04%) - three rookies and two backups. Of those six, only Hill has been trusted with more than 245 carries (457).  In fact, look how Hill stacks up against the other running backs who have been their teams primary back for both 2014 and 2015:

RK

PLAYER

ATTs      (2014-2015)

Rushing Yds (2014-2015)

YPA         (2014-2015

TDs        (2014-2015)

Rushing Fumbles     (2014-2015)

F/Carry

F/100 yds

1

Jeremy Hill

457

1,968

4.3

20

8

1.75%

0.407

2

Adrian Peterson

350

1,530

4.4

11

6

1.71%

0.392

3

Eddie Lacy

445

1,960

4.4

12

7

1.57%

0.357

4

DeAngelo Williams

262

1,126

4.3

11

4

1.53%

0.355

5

Jonathan Stewart

417

1,798

4.3

9

5

1.20%

0.278

6

Frank Gore

515

2,073

4.0

10

6

1.17%

0.289

7

Chris Ivory

445

1,891

4.2

13

5

1.12%

0.264

8

Darren McFadden

394

1,623

4.1

5

4

1.02%

0.246

9

Ronnie Hillman

313

1,297

4.1

10

3

0.96%

0.231

10

Doug Martin

422

1,896

4.5

8

4

0.95%

0.211

11

DeMarco Murray

585

2,547

4.4

19

5

0.85%

0.196

12

Chris Johnson

351

1,477

4.2

4

3

0.85%

0.203

13

LeSean McCoy

515

2,214

4.3

8

4

0.78%

0.181

14

Lamar Miller

410

1,971

4.8

16

3

0.73%

0.152

15

LeGarrette Blount

290

1,250

4.3

11

2

0.69%

0.160

16

C.J. Anderson

331

1,569

4.7

13

2

0.60%

0.127

17

Marshawn Lynch

177

602

3.4

4

1

0.56%

0.166

18

Alfred Blue

369

1,325

3.6

4

2

0.54%

0.151

19

Mark Ingram

392

1,733

4.4

15

2

0.51%

0.115

20

Alfred Morris

478

1,875

3.9

9

2

0.42%

0.107

21

Matt Forte

484

1,936

4.0

10

2

0.41%

0.103

22

Rashad Jennings

362

1,502

4.1

7

1

0.28%

0.067

23

Justin Forsett

386

1,907

4.9

10

1

0.26%

0.052

24

Le'Veon Bell

393

1,862

4.7

16

0

0.00%

0.000

25

Giovani Bernard

328

1,438

4.4

7

0

0.00%

0.000

AVG

394.8

1,694.8

4.3

10.5

3.3

0.82%

0.193

While Hill's yards and touchdowns are among the leaders, he has the worst fumble per carry rate and only 10 running backs are fumbling more than 1.0% of their carries. In fact, Hill is fumbling at a rate more than twice that of the average starter. If Hill were the bell cow back like Adrian Peterson, he would be averaging 6-7 fumbles per year. And, while I don't have the numbers to back it up, over the last two seasons, Hill has had a number of "near" fumbles - plays where he fumbled, but was ultimately ruled down just prior to the ball coming out.

I like Hill. I think he can be a top five back in the NFL, but unless he can fix his ball security issues, he cannot continue to get 200+ carries for this team - or any team.