BOSTON (CBS) — Jeremy Hill’s NFL career got off a very successful start with the Cincinnati Bengals. He rushed for over 1,100 yards with nine touchdowns as a rookie in 2014, tied for the NFL lead with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2015, and then ran for 839 more yards and nine more touchdowns in 2016. He was living up to the expectations of being the No. 55 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
But then came 2017 — not only did the Bengals draft running back Joe Mixon at 48th overall and thus limit Hill’s role in the offense, but Hill was also dealing with an ankle injury. As a result, in his final season before hitting free agency, his numbers bottomed out: 37 rushes, 116 yards, zero touchdowns.
Nevertheless, once free agency began, the Patriots came calling, and Hill is confident that after deciding in November to undergo season-ending ankle surgery, he can get back to being the running back he was from 2014-16.
“I just wasn’t myself. I really didn’t have the flexibility and the strength in it that I needed to be the back that I wanted to be, so I’m glad that I got it done and I can get it back to 100 percent and be the back that I know I can be,” Hill said Tuesday when speaking with reporters in Foxboro.
“It was something I was dealing with for about two years, and just something I felt like going into free agency and going into when the season was over, something that I needed to get done, something that I’m glad I got done then rather than when free agency started,” Hill also said. “But for me, I’ve been moving around really great and it’s progressing along perfectly. I’m excited for the opportunity ahead.”
As for going from the Bengals, a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990, to the Patriots, Hill said he was surprised initially to hear from New England.
“I actually was [surprised],” Hill said of getting the call from the Patriots. “Before free agency started and kind of after a few days of free agency, their name never got mentioned once. And then I got a call saying they wanted me on a visit and I jumped on a plane as quick as I could. I’m excited about the opportunity that they have here for me.”
While the success of the team in recent years has been obvious, joining the Patriots would not be considered a slam dunk for a free agent running back. It’s a crowded backfield, one where even for an offseason free-agent signing, carries can suddenly become scarce if another teammate gets on a roll. (Hill can ask Mike Gillislee about that.
Hill, though, said it’s that competition that was a selling point for him.
“Just the competition and, obviously, just what the coaches told me – that I was going to have to earn everything that I got here. That’s what I wanted to hear,” Hill said. “I feel like a lot of places can say this and say that, but in reality no one really knows. I’m glad that they were upfront and real about that, and that’s something that I respected about Coach [Bill] Belichick and Coach [Josh] McDaniels, and that’s what kind of drew me to come here.”