Jeremy Hill’s next task: Prove it off the field

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU running back Jeremy Hill dashes past Arkansas cornerback Will Hines. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU running back Jeremy Hill dashes past Arkansas cornerback Will Hines.

INDIANAPOLIS — LSU running back Jeremy Hill faced a throng of sportswriters at the NFL Scouting Combine three days after a prominent analyst said he’d be lucky if a team invested a third- or fourth-round pick in him, given the two convictions on his criminal record.

Is it fair, a reporter asked Hill, that people were questioning his worth in the NFL because of his misdeeds?

Absolutely, Hill calmly replied.

“I put myself in those situations,” Hill said Friday in Lucas Oil Stadium. “All I can do is make the right decisions going forward.”

Convincing teams he means those words is the most crucial thing Hill can do during the combine. No strength, speed or position drill is more important, and he knows that.

There are few — if any — doubts about whether Hill is built to play football. The 6-foot-1, 233-pound redshirt sophomore accumulated 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. Two scores and 216 yards came against what was then the seventh-best defense in the nation — Iowa — in the Outback Bowl, which LSU won 21-14.

Hill’s regular-season rushing yards were the second-most in the Southeastern Conference, and his TDs were the fourth-most in a season in school history.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Hill is a second-round talent. According to him, the only prospective running back with more upside is Bishop Sankey of Washington.

But that alone won’t be enough to save Hill from falling to the third or even fourth round, he said.

A couple of factors are working against Hill. For one, the modern NFL is unquestionably a passing league, so left tackles, quarterbacks, wideouts and prolific receiving tight ends are now more coveted than feature running backs, Mayock said Tuesday.

More important, though, are Hill’s legal troubles.

In 2012, he pleaded guilty to engaging in a sexual act in 2010 with a 14-year-old girl in the Redemptorist High School locker room. Then, in July, he pleaded guilty to punching a man outside a Baton Rouge bar a few months earlier.

“For his size, he’s got really good feet,” said Mayock, who opined that Hill has adequately shown what he can offer teams on the field. “The bigger thing for this kid is to be able to look teams in the eye and explain what he did, why he did it and whether or not he’s a different kind of guy. ...

“If he were clean off the field, I’d take him in the second round in a heartbeat, but he’s not clean off the field, so I think ... he’s fortunate to go in the third or fourth.”

Bill Polian, who used to be the Indianapolis Colts’ general manager and president, stressed how significant it was for players whose character was in question to leave a good first impression during the typically brief meetings that prospects and teams have at the combine.

“If there are questions, you’ve got to get them answered,” said Polian, now an analyst for ESPN. “It’s that simple.”

Also simple: Hill’s method for answering those questions, which he said is thoroughly detailing how and why he was arrested to any NFL executive that inquires. In fact, the NFL Network reported that Hill sent letters to all 32 teams, explaining the cases.

“These teams ... do a lot of research,” said Hill, who’s confident he can emulate Matt Forte or Arian Foster in the pros. “They probably know more about you than you know yourself. ... All I can do is be open and honest. Whatever comes after that comes after.”

Hill realizes the details he has disclosed to the teams will prompt some to eliminate him from consideration. He hopes at least one will feel “it can move forward with me,” he said.

“I can’t change any of that stuff that happened,” he said. “Everyone in life makes mistakes. There’s no one in this building that hasn’t made a mistake.”

Nonetheless, Hill is prepared for the possibility that his crimes have cost him his chance to be a high NFL draft pick — or result in his not being selected at all.

“I’m going into draft day with nothing expected,” he said. “Just being blessed and honored if any team takes me.”