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Mountain Climber

We’re almost to the point in the year where we start talking about camp battles. Players will be vying for roster spots and depth chart positions all Summer and we’ll be there to provide the latest information. Right now, there’s a different type of camp battle raging in rookie drafts – the battle between which Ronnie Hillman camp you’re in. Some believe Hillman is a sure bet to be a future starter for the Broncos, while others simply see him as a developmental project, with an outside chance at stardom.

Every Summer brings us a player like Hillman who starts creeping up draft boards into areas that are totally unexpected. As you may expect, all the writers and partners play in a variety of different dynasty leagues – this helps us to keep in touch with trends and values.

I was recently involved in a rookie draft that saw Trent Richardson go at the 1.01 – certainly not a shocker of a choice. The 1.02 was Doug Martin, also not a complete surprise. The third pick, you ask? Yep, you guessed it. None other than Ronnie Hillman himself. This draft just illustrates the rise we’ve seen with Hillman over the past month or so as owners start combing through news and start to fall in love with rookies. While this choice of Hillman at 1.03 is obviously a rare occurrence, it just illustrates the idea that Hillman is rising from a late first round pick or early second round choice in most drafts all the way up into the middle or even the top of the first round.

Let’s try to make the case for both camps in terms of taking Hillman in the middle (5-8) of the first round.

The Ronnie Hillman “For” Camp

It’s pretty simple – Hillman is an explosive back that could bring a different dynamic to the Broncos running attack.

Our own Jeff Haverlack is on record as saying, “Hillman is a quick-twitch athlete who has great lateral agility, stop-start ability and rare toughness for his size.” When you watch him play, it’s tough to argue that. He needs to become a better pass catcher, but he’s great in the open field. With Peyton Manning stretching defenses, you have to figure Hillman could be a very valuable weapon out of the backfield as long as he can handle the blocking assignments.

Willis McGahee is aging quickly and will turn 31 this next season. When you consider some of the wicked hits he’s taken in the past, you have to figure his career is winding down and that 31 is an “old” 31.  The Broncos would be wise to limit his workload and give Hillman a chance. Knowshon Moreno doesn’t look like the answer and Hillman is talented enough to pass Lance Ball and Mario Fannin on the depth chart seemingly pretty quickly.

Coach John Fox isn’t keen on playing rookies much, but he may not have a choice with McGahee likely unable to take the type of pounding he did last season. In addition, Fox has been a big proponent of having more than one back carry the load – look no further than DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. McGahee was used as a featured back last year, but that was really out of necessity. Keep in mind the Broncos traded up to get Hillman, so they obviously like him quite a bit.

With this rookie draft having so many question marks, there’s a case to be made for taking Hillman that high. There really aren’t that many great picks outside of the top tier. There are questions about just about all the players in that range, including Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, David Wilson, Kendall Wright or just about anyone else you could throw into the mix. Why not just take the risk?

The Ronnie Hillman “Against” Camp

For this, we merely need to cite some history. Take a look at the running backs taken in round three of the NFL Draft over the past ten years:

2011

DeMarco Murray
Stevan Ridley
Alex Green

2010

None Selected

2009

Shonn Greene
Glen Coffee

2008

Kevin Smith
Jacob Hester
Jamaal Charles
Steve Slaton

2007

Lorenzo Booker
Tony Hunt
Garrett Wolfe

2006

Brian Calhoun
Jerious Norwood

2005

Frank Gore
Vernand Morency
Ryan Moats
Maurice Clarett

2004

None Selected

2003

Musa Smith
BJ Askew
Chris Brown
Justin Fargas

2002

Lamar Gordon
Brian Westbrook

Of all those players taken in the third round over the past ten years, you could argue that only four (Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore, Jamaal Charles and DeMarco Murray) would merit a pick that high in the draft. That equates to a 4/24 ratio (one in six) or about a 17% chance of hitting. Sure, you could make a case for someone like Shonn Greene, but his price tag isn’t exactly mid-first round rookie pick at the moment. The book is still out on Stevan Ridley as well. Even if you added those two to the mix, the bust rate is still a robust 75% (18 of 24).

Hillman most certainly has a chance, but there’s a much greater likelihood that he becomes a change of pace back or “lightning” combination with McGahee or another running back in the future. He simply doesn’t have the size to handle bell cow numbers, nor does it seem he has the “Jamaal Charles-like” talent to still post numbers with limited touches worthy of that pick. He’ll get his chance, but it’s a risky proposition, especially since the Broncos are going to be much more apt to pass in the near future with Manning at the helm.

In fact, it was reported that Hillman didn’t even come close to practicing with the first team in the first set of practices this Summer. While that may not mean much in a few months, it does mean that McGahee isn’t threatened at all at the moment.

Summary

Ronnie Hillman is a solid rookie pick and has a good chance to be successful in the both reality and fantasy. He’s a talented young back with a bright future playing for a run oriented coach. However, history tells us not to go overboard in thinking he’s a sure thing.

Hillman is currently ranked anywhere from 10th to 14th on our rankings – lower than most. While we see him as a good prospect, he’s a player we believe should be considered starting in the late first round, not the middle, and certainly not above elite prospects like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

This is the time of year where the hype train starts to go out of control and coaches begin reaching for players they shouldn’t be reaching for. With some of the trades we’ve seen in the DLF Forum as of late, it would be wise to search for an owner high on Hillman if you have a rookie pick in that area and swing the pick for an established player.

There’s a realistic chance that Ronnie Hillman becomes a viable fantasy asset. You just shouldn’t start penciling it in because history shows us it’s no sure thing.

You can follow me on Twitter – @DLFKenK and don’t forget our next live Podcast tonight at 6PM PDT!

Ken Kelly
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Joe
9 years ago

Curious to see how far R. Turbin jumps in rookie drafts now with all this Lynch talk. He was a 4th round in the NFL draft so not sure of the history there for running backs but I am sure he will be taken higher than before in rookie drafts.

Tom
9 years ago

He is a solid pick anywhere after 1.7. After that it gets muddy so why not? His college stats are 606 touches 3581 yards and 38tds and a 5.7 avg per att. As a side note the kid is only 20 years old and those stats were from his true freshman and sophmore seasons. I am not saying he should go within the first 7 but after that 1.8 or later sure.

Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

I drafted at 1.06 and Wilson was already gone, so I had to decide between Floyd, Blackmon and Hillman.

Which is to say, I had to decide between Floyd and Blackmon. I don’t value Hillman and am not sure if I would draft him over Wright, Fleener or Jeffrey either.

The thing is he doesn’t look like a special talent. That means he won’t change Fox’s mind about starting a rookie and that he won’t do a ton with limited touches. While Manning is a boon to the offense, I don’t think Hillman will be the main RB, and as I said, he isn’t special enough to do a lot of damage in a RBBC.

I think similarly of Pead and don’t buy the “he is a franchise back” talk. Coaches like to talk up their players, but we’ll find out they didn’t mean it when they draft or sign another RB down the road.

clarion contrarion
Reply to  Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

watch the college tape pead runs bigger than his size – when I watch him I see warrick dunn or more likely amos zeroure type guy – with hillman if he cannot block he won’t play for peyton – (see donald brown) whenI watch hillman I see justin forsett or lorenzo booker – decent but not 3rd in the draft and certainly nothing to pin any serious hopes to.

Warren
9 years ago

Hillman at the 1.03 is just crazy. That owner left way too much value on the table with that reach. I would be interested to hear some of the owner reactions in that league after the pick.

sixshooter
Reply to  Warren
9 years ago

Yeah, taking Hillman at 1.03 has “I am going with an RB who I feel has the best chance to start sooner than later with my first pick no matter what other talent is available” written all over it. I am a Bronco fan and would not even consider Hillman there.

As a matter of fact….I had McGahee on my roster and traded the 10th pick for two 2nd round picks (2.04 and 2.08) because I felt it was way too soon for Hillman and Alshon Jeffery was who I likely would have taken and ended up getting Jeffery anyway at 2.04. Hillman went with the last pick in round one in a 12 team league. I ended up trading McGahee to the Hillman owner for Brandon Lloyd.

Jon Lambrecht
9 years ago

I’m in the camp that sees Hillman as a decent complement to McGahee in 2013. I’d give him around 100-150 total touches (max), about 4-6 hundred total yards and 2-3 touchdowns. I see the remaining touches on the ground mainly going to Willis as I think he will be much more trusted by Manning. Actually, McGahee should provide owners with an economically good year as a flex start or depth for bye week issues. Or for owners very strong at all other positions; McGahee could be a Rb 2 or 3.

In the future 2014 and beyond… is anyones guess, however, Hillman doesnt strike my eye as a 3 down back or a back that is special enough to carry the entire load for an NFL offense. He is a 3rd round draft pick behind a very established vet coming off a good year, on an offense that will certainly be trending toward the pass. If anything, in deep leagues he is a draft and stash player. Not a top of the 1st round guy. I have him and Turbin slighty ahead of Pead and L. James. But behind TRich,Martin,Miller,Wilson,Pierce.

Taking him at the 1.3 pick is very risky and potentially foolish. But… maybe that owner knows something everyone else doesn’t and they hit the jackpot at 1.3…

Coach
9 years ago

my rookie draft is in a few weeks. i don’t have a pick til round 3 so I’m sure he’ll be gone… but if i was choosing i think 1:8 would be a decent place for hillman.

Sensei John Kreese
9 years ago

Guess what? No one knows.

I traded down from 1.9 to 2.4, and somehow I was still able to get him there.

The guy is smart, has a good attitude and, contrary to some popular opinion, is NOT too small to be a 3 down back, (5’9 200). I like his chances.

Johnny Vegas
9 years ago

Even if he had Hillman #1 on his board it was still a bad pick at #3 as he still had Luck and RG3 on the board making it easy to trade down and still reach for Hillman in the top seven..
Rookie mistake! Oh well, live and learn..
I think Pead runs stronger than Hillman on the film ive watched plus I trust Fisher’s system more than Coach Fox who as we all know is one of the kings of RBBC..
I’d be suprised if Denver didn’t draft a RB in the first 3 Rds again next year or even sign a big name FA…
And if Hillman can’t block he may wind up like Dahm It Donald in Payton’s eyes ..
That will always be a classic as ‘DAHM IT Donald’ was Browns nickname in the Colts locker room as he got his butt chewed daily by Manning for not picking up the blitz.. Lol
I doubt Hillman receives much playing time anytime soon as it’s doubtful he can win over Fox and Manning in blitz pick up..

Chris R.
Reply to  Johnny Vegas
9 years ago

I always think it’s funny when we tend to go overboard with “value” in the off-season and think it’s some exact science. Maybe he couldn’t find a trade parter, maybe he had a huge need at RB and a ton of QB’s, maybe he was getting low balled with move down offers, maybe he personally has Hillman ranked that high.

Do you know that the owner at 1.05 was for sure going to pass on Hillman? No you don’t. So while he could have moved back to 1.07 for a few middle round selections here and there, but if he really values Hillman and missed him, being too cute screwed up his original plan and as some of us know, not every league is gung ho on trades. I know for a fact in some of my leagues, if a certain owner drafts a guy, I may as well forget about trading for him. Some people take rookies and ride it out with them for 3-4 years for better or for worse.

My point is that we always want to blast people for perceived value when in reality we all run teams the way we want to and should go on our OWN personal rankings. Sites like dlf that do rankings help us get an idea of perceived value in the community, and the area where a player could go. But I find it hard to say he reached all that much at 1.03 instead of trying to move back to 1.07(where at this pick the board starts to fall a ton of different ways).

Perfect example: In the stud RB class of 08 that had a ton of talented backs in it, if you had taken Chris Johnson or Ray Rice in the top 3 that year, over a Jonathan Stewart or Rashard Mendenhall you were the league clown. You obviously don’t know what your doing and should be laughed at for terrible value right?

Value doesn’t even matter a year from now. Whether a guy is a keeper or not is the big picture. If you like a guy, you take him, point blank. I’m not going to advocate trying to wheel and deal for some mid round picks that hardly amount to anything and risk missing on a player you truly covet.

We all think everything is so black and white during the off-season and if you go against the perceived value your crazy, until a year from now everyone forgets about that and it all becomes about how good the player is.

clarion contrarion
Reply to  Chris R.
9 years ago

you make many a good point but even hillman’s mama only had him at 1:11 on her board

Sensei John Kreese
9 years ago

I’m not seeing on any of the scouting reports that he struggled in blitz pickup. I think ball security may be more of a concern, as he did fumble 9 times in his two years.

sixshooter
Reply to  Sensei John Kreese
9 years ago

Well I have heard anything from “doesn’t have the strength or sand in his pants to hold up as a blocker” to “really has a hard time pushing larger defenders back and struggled against elite defenses” to “struggles in pass protection, simply isn’t big enough to anchor against NFL sized linebackers” when it comes to his blocking ability. Definitely not a strength that is for sure!

Other negatives are that he disappears against better competition, not explosive with the ball in his hands, has difficulty hanging on to the ball, not a reliable receiver, fails to run with power, struggled in big games and, of course, the common not an every down back comments.

I have by far read more comparisons to Darren Sproles than anything and it is likely an accurate comparison since he just doesn’t have the bulk and the frame to be a Steven Jackson type back. I know most fantasy owners would be happy with Sproles type production even if he doesn’t get those 20+ touches a game but the guy is going to have to learn to catch the ball if that is going to be his niche as a situational back in the NFL.

Sensei John Kreese
Reply to  sixshooter
9 years ago

Your suggestion that he needs to develop leg strength is valid. I agree.

I really believe that if this guy had been able to stay at SDSU, he could have gone in the first round of the NFL draft, and in the top 4-5 overall of fantasy rookie drafts. If this guy ends up with a RB2 ceiling, I would be totally fine with that. No one is suggesting that he is Ray Rice.

Johnny Vegas
9 years ago

CJ2K and Rice were both 1st RD picks going to running teams so I doubt anybody would mock for drafting CJ or Rice over Stewert or Menndy..
Poor example as Hillman was a reach in RD 3 and drafting #3 overall is poor value for a RBBC with elite prospects still on the board..
And to suggest one would only receive mid RD picks to move up from #7 to #3 with Luck and RG3 on the board is a stretch.
I gave up #4, #16 and A Brown for #1 (T-Rich) this year and I feel that was a steal!
Cam
Ryan
AP
CJ2K
T-Rich
Fred Jackson
Julio
AJ G
Harvin
Fritz
Grahm..
Mail me the check : )

Robert Tiedemann
Reply to  Johnny Vegas
9 years ago

Actually Ray Rice was the 2-24 pick man

KCGuzz
Reply to  Johnny Vegas
9 years ago

Who’s Fritz, your dog? And the other owner in your league has everyone else?

Jordan Andrews
9 years ago

Looking at other running backs selected in the same round as him over the last 10 years is about as useless as it gets as far as fantasy analysis goes.

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