Jeremy Hill Enters the Most Critical Year of His Career

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 14: Running back Jeremy Hill #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs for a gain during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 14, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 14: Running back Jeremy Hill #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs for a gain during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 14, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Bengals running back Jeremy Hill faces a unique situation this season.

On one hand, he’s part of a loaded Bengals’ backfield, with the likes of Giovani Bernard and second-round pick Joe Mixon from Oklahoma, who might be the most talented running back drafted in this year’s class. This creates fierce competition on who will receive the most touches. If Hill’s performance lags, he might spend more time on the sideline than being the Bengals’ featured back.

On the other hand, the timing is perfect for Hill. While Bernard recovers from his ACL surgery and Mixon goes through the head-spinning confusion indicative of rookies learning NFL playbooks, Hill knows the system. He still has a place at the table because even if the Bengals lean on Mixon early in the season, they’ll still need someone who can come in during short-yardage situations while Bernard recovers.

This is where Hill can excel.

The Bengals relied on Hill in short-yardage situations last season, and it was then he was most effective. He scored eight of his nine rushing touchdowns last season in opponents’ red-zones.

With that said, Hill needs to show improvement in big-play capabilities. He averaged less than four yards a carry in 2016 season, so while he was reliable in opponents’ red-zones, he lacked that explosive ability the Bengals needed at times; this why the Bengals drafted Mixon, who possesses the speed, agility, and vision to make large gains happen.

The most interesting aspect surrounding Hill is how he reacts to his situation. CBS Sports reported Hill reached out to Mixon, telling the rookie he was glad he was a part of the team. This is a positive sign Hill embraces the challenges facing him this season.

And the team needs him to take this attitude.

Imagine what happens if Hill has a career-season alongside the myriad of weapons the Bengals possess?

Even with the questions surrounding the offensive line, the Bengals will be difficult to stop.

Equally important from Hill’s standpoint is he is on the threshold of earning that coveted second NFL contract. A great season in Cincinnati might keep him on a team built for postseason runs for the foreseeable future.

Hill has everything to gain this season. And the timing couldn’t be better for him to elevate his game now.

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