You Should Definitely Draft Jeremy Hill This Season in Fantasy Football
In a game such as fantasy football, it's hard not to get attached to certain players.
We invest our time, interest, and
money jelly beans into how these NFL players perform each and every week. Worse yet, when we find a late-round pick intriguing, when our gut instincts tell us that there's something about this particular player, and when we do plant our personal flag in said player, refusing to drop him even he's a galaxy and a lifetime away from the opportunity he'll need to thrive, the feeling grows stronger.
When that player turns out to be like Justin Hunter, it can be damning.
But when that player turns out to be the 10th-best fantasy running back in the game, it's just hard to quit him. That's how it is for me and Jeremy Hill.
Don't worry. This isn't about me.
After his breakout rookie sesaon, Hill has vaulted up the draft board this year, and he is being drafted as the sixth running back off the board in the offseason, roughly the 24th pick overall.
We've seen, of course, rookie running backs fall off the fantasy earth after appearing like the next long-term stud, so it's safe to ask whether or not Jeremy Hill is the real deal.
Spoiler alert: it sure looks like he is.
The Real Deal
Putting aside fantasy football relevance for a bit, Hill's rookie season was incredible. Maybe the star-studded receiver class from last year shone too brightly to give Hill ample spotlight, but just appreciate this for a few breaths.
At numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP indicates how a player's production impacts his team's chance of scoring and is measured against league expectation level. So a player's Rushing NEP score indicates how many points he added to his team's expected point outcome during the course of a season.
Running the ball against 11 NFL-caliber defenders isn't exactly an efficient way to put points on the board, so oftentimes, a player's Rushing NEP can be negative.
Giovani Bernard's was -6.62 last year, so the average Bernard carry (he has 168 last year) resulted in -0.04 points for Cincinnati.
Hill's Rushing NEP (on 222 carries) was 20.63, making him just one of four running backs to top the 20-point plateau, Marshawn Lynch (27.34), Justin Forsett (22.67), and Jamaal Charles (22.10) being the others.
That's nice company, sure, but Hill showed efficiency with his carries as well. Hill's Rushing NEP per carry (0.09) ranked fifth among the 22 backs who saw at least 175 carries last year.
He was closer in per-carry Rushing NEP to the most efficient rusher (Charles at 0.11 per carry) than he was to the sixth-place rusher (Le'Veon Bell, 0.06).
Securing Rushing NEP is tricky. DeMarco Murray earned "just" 10.48 Rushing NEP on his 392 carries. NEP isn't just a volume stat like rushing yards tend to be; inefficient plays such as Murray's fumbles really eat into a player's overall impact. Hill avoided that and then some.
This is most obvious because of his Rushing Success Rate, the percentage of carries that led to positive NEP gains. Hill added to the Bengals' expected point total on 108 carries, giving him the sixth-most successful rushes in the league last year among running backs. The five players ahead of him had at least 266 carries (Matt Forte being the low-man on the carry totem).
So Hill moved the point-expectancy chains on 48.65% of his carries, a higher rate than any of the 43 backs to see at least 100 carries.
When a player has an elevated Success Rate, while running the ball, we have to consider, at least, that it's a result of offensive line play or offensive scheme. (After all, Ahmad Bradshaw and Dan Herron both secured Success Rates greater than 50% for the Indianapolis Colts last year, and neither even mustered a positive Rushing NEP. Bradshaw's Success Rate of 51.65% led to a Rushing NEP of -4.67, and Herron's 50.00% Success Rate still managed to lose 2.69 Rushing NEP.)
And if you recall, Bernard's Rushing NEP wasn't anything impressive (just -6.62), and his Success Rate was paltry as well: 36.31%. That ranked him 33rd among the 43 backs to see at least 100 carries and was worse than Bishop Sankey's (36.60%) for reference.
So I think it's safe to say that Hill wasn't just a product of the Cincinnati offense, which ranked just 17th in schedule-adjusted NEP per play (0.03) this year.
If you still aren't convinced, then know this: of the 345 unique seasons since and including 2000 in which a player saw at least 200 carries, Hill's Success Rate ranked 20th. His Rushing NEP per play ranked 30th.
Hill was also just one of 20 players ever to secure at least 20 Rushing NEP on fewer than 225 carries in a season. The most recent player to do that was DeMarco Murray in 2013. He was a pretty good fantasy asset in 2014, of course.
One variable that might keep people away from Hill -- aside from Bernard -- is that A.J. Green should be back and healthy in 2015. While that's true, there are actually a lot of reasons why Green may not thrive in the Cincinnati offense.
I don't want to self plagiarize, as I used much of this in the analysis of Green's potential, but the Bengals just run the ball a lot inside the red zone. Last year, they were second in red zone rushing frequency, first in rushing percentage from within the 10-yard line (by a significant portion), and first in rushing frequency from inside the 5-yard line.
Bernard actually attempted 31 carries from inside the red zone last year, but Hill was still afforded 36 rushes of his own from inside the 20, seven of which became touchdowns. Even with a spell back who saw a near-even share of red zone carries, there was still plenty for Hill. The Bengals -- either by preference or by distrusting Andy Dalton -- run the ball frequently near the goal line.
Hill, even among some other offensive talent, should see plenty of opportunities in 2015, and based on his 2014 metrics, he will make the most of them. Hill's standout season was largely overlooked. Don't make the mistake of overlooking him this year.