Drafting a New England Patriots running back in fantasy football is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. The Patriots are notorious for rotating their running backs in a manner which infuriates fantasy owners. However, Patriots running back Jeremy Hill is a forgotten gem who could be set for a big workload early in the season. Hill is currently owned in just 1.1% of NFL.com fantasy leagues, yet he will likely see a lion’s share of the early-down snaps, at least early in the season.
Fantasy Football: Don’t Sleep on Jeremy Hill
Jeremy Hill has slipped under the radar in recent years, primarily due to a downtick in recent production. However, it wasn’t long ago when Hill looked like one of the most promising running backs in football. In his first two seasons, Hill ran for 1,918 yards and 20 touchdowns on 445 attempts.
Hill’s production dipped over the past two seasons, including a career-low 116 yards in an injury-shortened 2017. However, Hill underwent surgery to fix a nagging injury which had bothered him since 2015. The surgery seemed to work, as Hill looked like his old self during the preseason, showing power and burst he hadn’t shown since 2015. If the old Hill is back, he could return to putting up 1,000-yard, 10 touchdown seasons. Quite frankly, he could be one of the best steals of 2018, both in the National Football League and in your fantasy league.
Hill Fits Belichick’s Tendencies
There’s no mystery in how Bill Belichick builds a backfield. In almost every season since taking the reins in 2000, Belichick uses an early-down power back, a pass-catching third-down back, and fills the remaining depth with guys capable of doing both. At the moment, the early-down power back job is up for grabs.
Whether it was Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, or LeGarrette Blount, Belichick always employs a one-dimensional bruising back who sees the lion’s share of the early down work. Even in 2017, Mike Gillislee started the season with that role before Dion Lewis became a do-everything back.
Now, it’s Hill’s turn to take that role. Like all the aforementioned running backs, Hill isn’t much of a threat in the passing game. However, he’s fantastic at short-yardage situations and early-down running. In his career, Hill averages 4.1 yards per attempt on first and second down and has converted a solid 62.5% of third/fourth and short situations in his career.
Those numbers, while impressive on their own, are slightly weighed down by two injury-plagued seasons. Basically, Hill fits the mold of what Bill Belichick looks for in an early-down running back. He could easily be the lead back in Week One’s matchup against the Houston Texans.
The biggest reason Hill is only owned in 1.1% of NFL.com leagues is that he appears to be at the bottom of the Patriots depth chart. The Patriots re-signed Rex Burkhead, a capable dual threat, and drafted Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. In theory, both players would take snaps away from Hill.
However, Hill will probably see more action than either player, at least early in the season. Michel suffered a knee injury early in camp, forcing him to miss almost three weeks of practice. As it is, it’s difficult for young players to pick up the Patriots complex playbook. With three weeks on the sideline, it may take some time before Michel is ready to be a regular player.
While Burkhead has a mastery of the offense, he’s also banged up. The second-year Patriot missed a sizable chunk of the preseason after suffering a knee injury of his own. He only recently started practicing again and probably isn’t 100%. Burkhead has a long history of injuries, so the Patriots will likely be cautious with bringing him back.
The only other truly healthy running back on the roster is James White. White, while an incredibly talented receiving back, isn’t much of a threat to carry the ball. He and Hill are fighting for different snaps, so White’s presence shouldn’t affect Hill’s production in any meaningful way.
Last Word on Jeremy Hill
Jeremy Hill is a free agent in most leagues, and smart fantasy owners should take advantage of this. Hill is healthy for the first time in two seasons and fits what Bill Belichick historically likes in an early-down running back. The other Patriots running backs are fighting off injuries, so Hill will likely see a sizable portion of the early-down snaps, at least until Michel and Burkhead get healthier.
Will Hill singlehandedly win your fantasy league a la Todd Gurley in 2017? Not likely. However, if you’re looking to find a replacement for Jerick McKinnon or just want to build up your running back depth, give Jeremy Hill a look. After Week One, you might not be able to grab him.
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