CINCINNATI (AP) — No player in the NFL had more receiving yards in the final nine games of last season than rookie Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants. No player in the NFL had more rushing yards in the final nine games of last season than Cincinnati Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill.
The two good friends and college teammates at LSU are poised to show what they can do over a full season.
The Bengals host the Giants Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium in the preseason opener for both teams. Neither Hill nor Beckham Jr. is expected to be in the game more than one or two series as the teams will quickly replace their starting units with backups.
It’s a different scenario from a year ago at this time. Beckham was dealing with a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the preseason and the first four games of the regular season. It also brought out critics who couldn’t shout loud enough that the Giants had wasted the No. 12 overall pick on him. Hill, a second-round pick, was behind Giovani Bernard on the depth chart as the Bengals worked on ways to implement each back’s skills into their offensive scheme.
Beckham Jr. ended up being named the Associated Press NFL offensive rookie of the year after setting franchise rookie records with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games. Hill was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team after rushing for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns on 222 carries.
“All the adversity he had for the first four weeks, people doubting him and saying he was a wasted first-round pick. That weighs on people and it definitely weighed on him,” said Hill. “It just goes to show his character and grit and determination he has.”
The Bengals and Giants held joint practices twice this week leading up to the game. Hill picked up Beckham Jr. when he arrived and they went to visit injured Bengals wide receiver James Wright, another former teammate of theirs at LSU. Wright was drafted in the seventh round by the Bengals in 2014 and earned a spot on the team with his special teams play. He recently had knee surgery and was placed on injured reserve, ending his sophomore season before it started.
“It’s just making sure that I can be there for him and help him keep his mind right because we consider ourselves brothers so I’m going to look out for him no matter what,” Beckham said.
As last season progressed, Beckham and Hill became integral to their offenses. The Giants lost Victor Cruz to a torn right patellar tendon in Week 6. Beckham stepped up in Cruz’s absence, including producing four games with at least 10 receptions and 130 yards, a feat no rookie in NFL history has ever accomplished more than twice.
Hill took over the main rushing duties in Week 9 against Jacksonville last season, subbing for an injured Bernard. He ended the season with four 140-yard rushing games.
Hill’s touchdown celebrations became a topic of conversation during chat sessions Hill and Beckham would have with other former LSU players that include Wright and Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
“I think the funniest thing I saw him do, besides all of the great celebrations that he had, it was just seeing him stiff-arm one guy (Jim Leonhard) against Cleveland and then accelerate away,” said Beckham. “And then jumping in the stands and they mushed him back down. It was a joke in our group chat for a long time.”
The spotlight is on both players to back up their rookie seasons with greater performances.
“‘Pressure’ is definitely a word that no one really talks about it because it’s just the game we know and love, a game we’ve been playing since we were 6 or 7 years old,” Hill said. “Both of our games are versatile because we like to go out there and have fun.”