Late last night, Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge Advocate came through with a report that Jeremy Hill is considering returning next season. Beyond the blog, Dellenger reasons:
Also, re Hill: Most draft analysts feel another good season/year of buffer between his last arrest could send Hill draft stock soaring #LSU— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) January 7, 2014
Firstly, let me acknowledge, that I wouldn't begrudge Hill returning. I've argued on Twitter that next year could be very difficult for the LSU offense, losing nearly every piece of a prolific 2013 attack, even with a talented crew waiting in the wings. Jeremy Hill returning would certainly ease that burden. Hill, without question, is the single best running back in the Les Miles era. Averaging 6.2 yards per carry, while being the lead back in LSU's rushing attack is something that wasn't accomplished by Addai, Hester, Ridley, Scott, Williams, Hilliard or any other back that's taken carries since the 2005 season. Hill topped a phenomenal freshman season (142 carries, 5.3 YPC) by throwing up an additional 50 carries at an obscene 6.9 rate (best single season rate in LSU history by nearly a yard and a half). He's rushed for 28 career TDs, good for 7th all-time in school history, in just two seasons. If he were to return for his 2014 campaign and merely replicate the numbers from his freshman season, he'd rank in the top five in virtually every rushing statistic in LSU history, trailing only players that played four full seasons in Baton Rouge. He's a special back.
But Jeremy Hill shouldn't come back to Baton Rouge; here's two big reasons why:
1) His Future
If there's any position that I won't criticize players leaving college early for the NFL, it's running back. Running backs carry notoriously short shelf lives in their professional careers. People commonly discuss how, "you can only take so many hits," or that "there is only so much tread on the tires." Even the most successful NFL RBs barely last into their early 30s before becoming bit parts or heavy rotational players.
Emmitt Smith, who is probably the most durable running back in NFL history, never crossed the 1,000-yard barrier after he turned 32. He entered the NFL at age 21, Hill's current age. Emmitt was not only super durable, he was also fortunate to play in what is virtually the final era of the "every down back" that we'll likely see in the NFL. The workhorse back is a thing of the past, unless you're a rare talent like Adrian Peterson, and Peterson's topped 300 carries just three times in his first seven seasons, something Emmitt did five times before and two more times after (even touching 294 carries at age 31). Now, more than ever, backs are picked up, used, and discarded for the next young pretty thing.
You want a prime example of a very good running back that touches that 300-carry milestone? Maurice Jones-Drew was a workhorse in every sense in Jacksonville. At age 28, he posted a career low 3.4 YPC last season, and while some blame can certainly be laid at the feet of Jacksonville's miserable offense, MJD lasted only six games in 2012 before succumbing to injury, a season after he amassed a career-high 343 carries in 2011.
The takeaway here? Hill only has so many years to make money as an NFL running back. Even if he proves capable of being one of the league's five or so best backs (an MJD/Rice/Lynch/Turner/Gore type), the good times only last so long. So, why then should Hill give up an extra 200 or so free carries to LSU? Perhaps, if he profiled like a Jacob Hester or a Charles Scott, with limited NFL upside, I could see the reasoning. But even those with more modest expectations of his future see him as a mid-to-upper round pick.
2) LSU's Future
While I don't suspect many will disagree with point one, point two is one I believe will draw more ire. Just last week, LSU secured the verbal commitment of the nation's premiere running back, Leonard Fournette. Fournette is widely considered one of the three best players in the nation, and perhaps the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. For the bird-in-the-hand crew that remain optimistic, but skeptical, that an incoming player could possibly produce at a high level, this notion will seem outlandish.
But, in a sense, LSU doesn't need Jeremy Hill. Hill is a lead SEC back, an All-SEC 1st Teamer, that would and should command the bulk of any team's carries next season. Yet, Fournette comes with that same promise. After committing, Fournette openly stated that he wants to come to LSU and win the Heisman his freshman season. Audacious as the claim may be, the larger point here is that his eyes are set on being the lead back in the LSU offense... immediately.
While I'm not overly concerned that Hill's return could sway Fournette's commitment, is it in the team's best interest to enter 2014 with two feature backs? LSU may be better served with a committee that features Fournette as the main player with Magee and Hilliard or Blue as complementary pieces. I have very little doubt that Fournette will be ready to contribute by the Wisconsin game next season, and presuming the LSU coaches feel similarly (which would be indicated by their all-in recruiting approach the past two years), why risk stunting that growth by returning another feature back?
Opponents will argue that you can never have enough running backs and that Fournette could bust, but the inverse is just ask risky, both for Fournette and Jeremy Hill's future. Sure, it worked for Mark Ingram, who followed up a Heisman campaign with a so-so junior season and was subsequently still a 1st round pick. But how often does that happen?
Hill may very well feel that he owes it to LSU and Les Miles to return for another season, especially considering he may not have a football career if not for both the coach's and the university's enduring patience with pair of legal indiscretions. While I appreciate his perspective and loyalty, in this case, he may be better served by being "selfish." All good things must come to end and so of your LSU career, number 33. Go get your money, kid; you've earned it.