On April 27, 2012, with the 9th pick (67th overall) in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected Ronnie Hillman, a 5-9, 190 lb. Running Back out of San Diego State. Since then, a lot has been said about his playing time, or lack thereof.
The 20 year old had a few injury setbacks during Training Camp, tweaking a Hamstring and then trying to come back too soon in his eagerness to prove himself. However, that wasn’t the only thing holding Hillman back. Most schools don’t require their Running Backs to do much pass blocking and they show up in the Pros short changed by their College programs. Case in point. Clinton Portis didn’t see much playing time under former broncos coach Mike Shanahan until Week 5 or 6 of his rookie year simply because of his pass blocking.
We saw early this season as the team tried to adjust to the Manning/McCoy hybrid Offense, that the opposing teams brought a lot of pressure to test Peyton Manning’s health. Part of the adjustments involved moving extra receivers whether it was a Tight End, Wide Receiver or Running Back into position to protect the Quarterback. Willis McGahee is a stud and showed up to Training Camp ripped, but he is still over 30 and shouldn’t be expected to carry the entire load in the Denver Running game. Because we knew that Ronnie Hillman could run and catch the ball, the only reasons remaining to account for his lack of playing time had to be his pass blocking and development.
Bronco Mike decided to put our heads together and see if we could find out where Hillman is in his development since the Bye week was upon us. Mike has been cutting up stills for a little show and tell and I have been scoping out the film and compiling stats to see if we can draw a picture for you.
Ronnie’s first action didn’t come until Week 3 against the Houston Texans. He played 12 out of a possible 82 snaps in that game. The stat line shows that Hillman carried the ball twice for 7 yards and caught a 1-yard pass, but he was on the field for another 8 or 9 plays.
Hillman’s largest workload to date came against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4. He was on the field for 21 out of a possible 80 Offensive plays. Ronnie had 31 yards on 10 carries and two catches for 32 yards. Again Hillman was present for an additional 8 or 9 plays.
Week 5 in New England saw Hillman get 5 snaps out of 67. He ran for 9 yards on three carries and caught one ball for 4 yards. Last week in San Diego, Ronnie got 10 snaps out of a possible 59, with two carries for 3 yards.
I watched the action from the Texans and the Patriots games and I’m sure Mike will have much more to say since the Raiders game will have the biggest sample. The conclusions I found in the two games I viewed were that Hillman was able to play two consecutive plays each time and had four in a row during the 4th Quarter of the game vs. the Texans. Of the 17 plays I reviewed, the Broncos were in the 11 personnel package (1 RB, 1 TE) 16 times. I didn’t see much in the way of straight up pass blocking, but Ronnie put a chip block on the Defensive End to help the Tackle or Tight End changer the pass rusher’s angle and then he released into a pass route. He also showed a pretty good stiff arm on Cornerback Kyle Arrington during the game against the Patriots.
By direction, Ronnie has run to the left side 3 times for 10 yards (3.0 avg.), 8 times for 31 yards (3.8 avg.) up the middle and 6 times for 9 yards (1.5 avg.) to the right side. Without taking into consideration the opponent or game plan, I would have thought the play calling would favor running over the left side simply because Right Guard Chris Kuper has been out and Ryan Clady is the money man on the Broncos Offensive Line. But J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles have been the best Run blockers this season. For a smaller speed guy, I also would have thought that Hillman had no business trying to thump up the middle, but would work better on the outside to utilize his quickness.
For the year, Hillman has rushed 17 times for 50 yards, a 2.9 average with a long of 12 yards. As a receiver, he has caught 4 balls for 37 yards, a 9.3 average with the longest being 29 yards. Ronnie hasn’t made it to the end zone in his 21 touches, but that should change during the second half of the season even though it appears that the Broncos are still trying to figure out how to use Hillman the best.
Keep your eyes peeled for more on Ronnie Hillman from Bronco Mike.
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