Is Jeremy Hill Better Than Giovani Bernard?
On 24 carries against the Jaguars, Hill ran for 154 yards and a pair of scores. Hill's 6.44 Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) total was best in the NFL at running back this week.
With such a strong outing, it's time that we ask the question: Is Jeremy Hill actually better than Giovani Bernard?
Bernard's Rookie Year
Gio Bernard gives you flashy plays and fantasy points, so naturally he's become a household name in the NFL. But that doesn't always mean he's a good running back on the actual football field.
During his rookie season last year, Bernard was part of a 1-2 punch with then Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard, as you can see below, was the better all-around back both on the ground and through the air.
|Rushing NEP||Per Rush||Success Rate|
|Receptions||Reception NEP||Targets||Target NEP|
It's obvious that Bernard can do work in the passing game, and he was really the only true receiving threat out of the backfield that the Bengals had a season ago.
Gio also tallied a -6.75 Rushing NEP score, which isn't good, but it was far better than what Green-Ellis saw in Cincinnati a season ago. On a per touch basis, Bernard was twice as efficient.
But the reason for that could be because of the aforementioned flashy plays that Bernard brings to the table. If you take a look at the Success Rate metric, which is the percentage of rushes that contribute positively towards a team's NEP total, you'll notice that Bernard's was lower last year than Green-Ellis', despite a much higher Rushing NEP. Why is this? Because a lot of his Rushing NEP was being accumulated on big plays - Bernard was actually less impressive than The Law Firm from a "good rush vs. bad rush" perspective.
Enter Jeremy Hill
With Green-Ellis' 220 carries out of the picture, the Bengals went ahead and drafted Jeremy Hill in May. The pick itself made sense - while Gio is a big play waiting to happen, Hill is more of a bruiser, weighing nearly 30 pounds more than his teammate.
Entering Week 9, here's how the two have performed thus far on the ground in 2014:
|Rushing NEP||Per Rush||Success Rate|
Hill's adding nearly one-tenth of a point per rush, while Bernard's been mostly replaceable in the Bengals backfield. But again, take a look at the Success Rate of these two players. To reiterate, this tells us the rate at which these running backs are gaining positive plays for their team. Jeremy Hill's rate is over 20 percent higher than Bernard's.
For some perspective, among the 51 running backs with 50 or more carries entering Week 9, Giovani Bernard's Success Rate ranks 34th.
Jeremy Hill's ranks second.
"But Bernard's a bigger threat out of the backfield through the air," you say.
|Receptions||Reception NEP||Targets||Target NEP||Rec NEP/Target|
Keep in mind that these numbers reflect the two runners entering Week 9. While Bernard has a higher Reception NEP - the number of points added on catches only - it's because he has more catches and is seeing far more volume. The truth is, on a per target basis (the column all the way to the right), Hill has been more efficient.
And in terms of Target NEP - which looks at how many points a player adds on all targets - Bernard's been a detriment out of the backfield for Cincinnati. This could be due to dropped passes or interceptions, something Reception NEP doesn't capture.
I know it seems crazy because Bernard continuously makes crazy plays through the air but, really, he hasn't been all that effective. Among the 33 running backs entering Week 9 with 10 or more catches, Bernard ranked 21st in Reception NEP per target.
Jeremy Hill ranked 12th.
So what does this all tell us? First, I think we should recognize that Jeremy Hill is a machine, and the Bengals have themselves a very legitimate running back. But second, perhaps Giovani Bernard will soon slip back into his rookie season role.
Remember, Green-Ellis ended up seeing 50 more carries than Bernard did in the Bengals' backfield last year, an offense coordinated by Jay Gruden. Green-Ellis' leaving allowed Jeremy Hill to step in.
But Hill's a rookie with a solid runner in front of him on the depth chart - there's no need for the Bengals to force him into the lineup. As a result, when Bernard's been healthy, he's seen over two times the number of touches as Hill (109 attempts vs. 50 attempts) this year.
Despite the fact that Gruden's no longer in Cincinnati (you may automatically assume Bernard fits into a new role), expect this type of backfield split to change down the stretch. Hill not only showed us on Sunday - against a better-than-you-think Jacksonville rush defense - that he can carry the load, but even when you don't factor in that contest, he's been the better running back in 2014. And moving forward, he's a much, much bigger threat than BenJarvus Green-Ellis ever was to Giovani Bernard. Hill's a more-efficient runner, and he can actually catch the ball out of the backfield.
Is Jeremy Hill better than Giovani Bernard? Time will tell, but he's certainly showing us all that he's as real as it gets. And Bernard backers better be ready for a change.