Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill, a former rusher for LSU, believes the current star in the Tigers’ backfield, Leonard Fournette, deserves top billing among college football’s best players.
“I think he’s the best player. (He’s not only the best) running back but the best player in college football,” Hill said during a Thursday interview on The Paul Finebaum Show. “Just how dynamic he is. You could be on the one-yard line. He’s a threat to score a touchdown. He’s just such a great player. He’s so physical. He’s so fast. He’s just a pleasure to watch. I just love watching him play.”
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That’s high praise, but it’s also debatable. Returning Heisman Trophy jersey finalists Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Christian McCaffrey jersey of Stanford could make strong arguments, as well. NFL Media analyst Chad Reuter ranks Fournette the nation’s No. 2 player behind Watson. Fournette was considered the Heisman favorite early last season after compiling three consecutive 200-yard games, but fell out of contention in November.
NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt said in September that Fournette could have been the No. 1 player selected in the 2016 draft (Fournette won’t be draft-eligible until 2017 at the earliest). Other praise for Fournette takes some unique forms. An NFL personnel man likened Fournette to NBA star LeBron James jersey, per NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah, after Fournette dismantled Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl.
Hill left LSU as an underclassman following the 2013 season, in which he rushed for 1,401 yards only 203 carries with 18 touchdowns. A year later, Fournette arrived, along with the hype of being the nation’s top-rated high school rusher, and responded with a 1,000-yard season of his own.
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict jersey made his feelings about the Steelers clear in January, saying: “I hate Pittsburgh.”
Steelers fans likely feel the same about Burfict, who was suspended without pay for the first three games of the regular season for repeated violations of safety-related playing rules — including a vicious hit on Antonio Brown in January’s insane wild-card tilt that left the Pittsburgh wideout with a concussion.
The Steelers won that playoff game with cheap jerseys, but Cincinnati’s hard-hitting defense left a bitter taste with plenty of Pittsburgh players, including running back DeAngelo Williams jersey, who said in April: “For me, my rival throughout my year will be the Cincinnati Bengals.”
Understandably, Bengals owner Mike Brown sees Burfict and his teammates in a different light.
“I own the Bengals, not the Steelers,” said Brown, per Geoff Hobson of the team’s official website. “You can guess where I stand. But I won’t comment.”
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Added Brown, per ESPN.com’s Coley Harvey: “Vontaze Burfict is one hell of a football player. We want him on the football field. We regret that we won’t have him for three games, but he’ll be back after that. He’s a difference maker, and we’re lucky to have him.”
They won’t have him when the Bengals visit Pittsburgh in Week 2, but Burfict will be in uniform when these two teams go head-to-head in a Week 15 battle likely to be draped with playoff implications.
Jones added: “We’re going to be motivated anyway because we want to get out of the first round. So whoever it’ll be, when we get there, hopefully we can take out all our frustration and anger on the field, and keep it on the field and win the game. We’ll see wholesale jerseys.”
While this won’t necessarily be a popular opinion, seeing a player like Jones so driven and committed to bringing the Bengals another round deeper into the playoffs makes us appreciate head coach Marvin Lewis even more. We ask coaches to build a culture and bring along players that other coaches could not or did not, and Jones is a shining example of what Lewis was able to over his time in Cincinnati.
Now Jones will be instrumental in Lewis’ next act: Rebuilding the team after losing its No. 2 and 3 wide receivers, offensive coordinator and Pro Bowl safety. There is change every offseason, but the Bengals are approaching the type of hurdle that can bring down even the best of infrastructures.