LSU running back Jeremy Hill is leaning toward bypassing the NFL draft and returning for his junior season, a source said Monday night.
Hill, a former Redemptorist High star, is draft-eligible as a sophomore because he did not play his true freshman season.
Hill has not officially decided to return, but all signs point to the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder remaining in school, said the source, who was familiar with the decision but not authorized to speak on Hill’s behalf.
Hill was second in the Southeastern Conference in regular-season rushing yards and finished the season with 1,401 yards. In the Outback Bowl last Wednesday, he piled up 216 yards against Iowa, then the seventh-best defense in the nation. That was the best single-game rushing performance for an LSU running back since 2004.
Hill is ranked the eighth-best running back in this year’s draft and is projected to be selected in the third round, according to CBSSports.com.
His off-the-field issues — two arrests — may hinder the running back’s chances of a higher draft selection this year, said Rob Rang, analyst for CBSSports.com.
Another good season and a year-plus buffer between Hill’s most recent arrest (in April) would only improve his draft stock, Rang said.
“Jeremy Hill posses some extraordinary traits,” Rang said. “He’s one of the most polarizing prospects. He has undeniable talent. It’s going to come down to how comfortable teams are with his work ethic and past.”
LSU coach Les Miles reinstated Hill to the team in August after suspending him in April following an altercation outside a Tigerland bar. The incident violated Hill’s probation. In January 2012, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor carnal knowledge of a 14-year old.
Hill is likely to be LSU’s primary offensive weapon next year. The Tigers will have a new starting quarterback and are likely losing their top two receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., two juniors who are reportedly declaring early for the draft.
A source said Sunday that Hill was expected to meet with Miles on Monday. It’s unclear whether the two met.
Defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson have announced their intentions to declare for the draft.
Six draft-eligible LSU players are projected to be selected in the top four rounds of the draft. The list: Johnson, Beckham, Landry, Ferguson and Hill and left tackle La’el Collins.
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare.
If Hill does decide to return for 2014, he would be joined in the backfield by St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette, a recent LSU commitment ranked as the nation’s top prospect.
Most feel Hill’s decision won’t affect Fournette’s commitment.
“I haven’t talked to anybody who said it would,” said Sonny Shipp, lead recruiting analyst for Geaux247 of 24/7 Sports. “LSU always uses two backs. If Jeremy does come back, he’s going to be there for one year. (So there’s) still two years where Leonard could be the bell cow.”