The Cincinnati Bengals missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2010, a misstep that was just the start of what is amounting to be a rough offseason.
Three of Cincy’s most unheralded, but vital, offensive players — Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler, Rex Burkhead — departed in free agency. Marvin Lewis indicated that he doesn’t expect to receive a contract extension after this season. Now, the Bengals are requesting visits from the draft’s top running backs, already one of their deeper positions.
While some fans are questioning whether the organization is suddenly sinking into the Ohio River and/or back into irrelevance, Jeremy Hill isn’t worried about much of the turnover in Cincinnati or at his position.
“Not at all. That’s what the NFL is,” Hill said. “I don’t think when they drafted me, they said in my contract, they won’t draft any more running backs, so I think that’s understood, that’s part of the business.”
Hill added on Up to the Minute Live: “Best available, that’s the way the Bengals do it. I would love to play with him. It’d be a great backfield attack with us three and (Giovani Bernard) and I. It’d be amazing. So if I got a chance to play with them, that’d be great.
“If they wanna draft the back high, go ahead and do it. They’re probably going to be my backup.”
In the final year of his four-year rookie deal, Hill would be right to take the Bengals‘ forays into the RB draft pool as a sign that his job is in jeopardy. While the starting tailback said he doesn’t “feel any pressure” in the first contract year of his career, Hill did acknowledge that to be the player he wants to be — and secure his place on future Bengals rosters — he needs to complete his game.
“For me, it’s getting that yards per carry higher and yards after contact, just breaking more tackles, and I think everything else will take care of itself,” Hill told Around The NFL. “So I know I can get in the end zone, but it’s just getting that yards per carry up and more yards after contact.”
In a statistical oddity, Hill compiled 222, 223 and 222 carries in each of his first three seasons. The former LSU Tiger has led the team in rushing every year since being drafted 55th overall in 2014, but saw his yards per carry fall under 4.0 the past two seasons after a stellar 1,124-yard rookie campaign. Hill’s goals for this season won’t excite many fantasy owners, who are placated by the back’s propensity for the end zone, but hitting high per-carry marks will definitely sweeten Hill’s market come 2018.
Still, there’s no guarantee that this year will be any easier for Hill, what with the better half of his offensive line — Whitworth and Zeitler — breaking the bank with moves to the Rams and Browns, respectively.
“Those are obviously our two best offensive linemen and anytime you lose that, it definitely hurts,” Hill stated. “But we can’t lose faith in the front office. They’ve been to the playoffs this many years. They obviously know what they’re doing, so we got to trust them and trust that they’re going to make the right decisions and bring guys in there and trust our coaches that they’re going to have the guys up there ready to play. I’m not worried right now.
“I don’t know who the five (offensive linemen) are right now. I don’t think anyone knows.”
There’s a lot of lingering uncertainty in Cincinnati. Can the Bengals ever regain the consistent competency of the early 2010s? Will Lewis return? Will AJ McCarron‘s bespoke sushi franchise get off the ground?
Count the state of the Bengals running back position as one more question left answered heading into the draft.