There was a bit of a controversy when the Cincinnati Bengals elected to select LSU's Jeremy Hill over the home-grown Carlos Hyde, who many pegged as the draft's top running back prospect.
The 6'1", 230-pound Hill ran for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, when he had seven 100-yard games; he ran for 184 yards and three TDs in a win over Auburn.
As for the 6'0", 235-pound Hyde, he rushed for 1,521 yards and 15 TDs in 2013, when he became the first-ever Urban Meyer-coached running back to crack the 1,000-yard barrier. He rushed for 100 yards in each of Ohio State's final nine games and had two 200-yard outings, including a monster 246-yard, four-TD performance against Illinois in which he averaged 10.3 yards per carry.
One thing to realize here is that Hyde's three of his four best performances as a college back came against Northwestern (68th in rush defense), Indiana (117th) and Illinois (118th). He racked up yards against putrid defenses that didn't have a single player drafted this year.
As for Hill, he routinely came up big against SEC defenses and still had a slightly better career yards per carry average (6.2 vs. Hyde's 6.1).
The one comparable game the two backs had came against Iowa, who sported the 19th-best rush defense in the nation. Hyde got 149 yards on 24 carries.
Hill's performance was far more impressive, as he gashed the Hawkeyes for a career-high 216 yards on 28 carries. He did this while facing 7 and 8-man in the box, as LSU was without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger due to a knee injury. Freshman backup Anthony Jennings was making his first career start, and everyone knew Hill was going to be relied on heavily this day, but Iowa still couldn't stop him.
We can debate all day as to who the better back was, but at the end of the day, the Bengals picked Hyde over Hill for a reason. Bengals running backs coach Kyle Caskey told Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com exactly why the team liked Hill in Round 2:
The way he played in his offense at LSU, and the pro-style offense they had and what they asked him to do. He stepped up and was going against a tough SEC, downhill, the stuff that we like to do. And when it came to pass protection, he actually stepped in there.
He was coached to do that and he looked really tough, not that the others guys didn't. He really just stepped above that when it came to being a complete player and the type of runner we're looking for as well, and playing against the competition he played.
The truth is, Hill was simply a better fit for Cincinnati.
From Kevin Goheen at FoxSports.com:
The Bengals believe Hill better fits their needs and their offense than Hyde. The two backs are comparable in physical size -- Hill is listed at 6-feet-1, 233 pounds, while Hyde is 6-0, 230 -- and both have been productive in their college offenses. If there is one thing that stood out to the Cincinnati coaches, it's that Hill played in a pro-style offense at LSU while Hyde was in a spread offense..
"Don't get me wrong, Carlos Hyde is a heck of a football player and somebody is going to get a very, very good football player here very shortly, in my opinion, but this was the best fit for the Bengals today," said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
Another thing to remember is Hyde played with Braxton Miller, who's arguably the best dual-threat QB in college football, and the threat of his running ability leaves a lot of wide-open holes.
Ironically enough, that could be the same scenario for him in San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick.
One more thing to consider with Hill and Hyde is the upside and room to grow, as well as the tread on their tires.
Hyde has 557 career plays from scrimmage, one of the higher marks of any RB prospect to be drafted as high as the second round in recent drafts.
As for Hill, he has just 371 careers plays from scrimmage, the lowest mark of any RB prospect in this year's draft, and one of the lower marks of any RB to get drafted recently. Hill is also a year younger than Hyde.
In the end, both players will be monitored and compared over the course of their careers, but as of now, it looks as though the Bengals were right to go Hill over Hyde.
Be sure to read Cody Tewmey's 'Hill vs. Hyde' article for more perspective on the two backs.