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:
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.
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.