A day-by-day Broncos player breakdown is something we've been doing since our days at BroncoTalk nearly a decade ago. This year the tradition continues as we look at the Denver Broncos roster heading into the 2015 season in our 90-in-90 series.
Name: Ronnie Hillman
Position: Running Back
Height: 5'10" Weight: 195
Age: 23 Experience: 4th year
College: San Diego State University
Today we are looking at one of the many running back options the Broncos have been blessed with - Ronnie Hillman. After being drafted in the 3rd round by the Broncos in 2012, Hillman had an admittedly slow start in his rookie season, playing 4th on the depth chart behind Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, and Lance Ball. In week 11, however, he became the youngest player in NFL history to score a touchdown at just 20 years old.
Hillman was named the starting running back to begin the 2013 season. Unfortunately, during the heartbreaking loss in Peyton Manning's first game against the Colts, Hillman fumbled the ball on the 2 yard line when the Broncos were down by 6. This mistake was not soon forgotten, and he dropped behind Moreno and Montee Ball.
Last season we got to see what three running backs had to give. After an unfortunate Montee Ball injury in week 4 last season, Hillman soared past C.J. Anderson to the top spot on the Broncos' depth chart. Hillman's performance in the next 5 games was impressive, he was more productive than Montee Ball on every level. During his first start he rushed for over 100 yards, making people wonder why Ball ever started. He was averaging significantly more yards per carry, and scored 4 times as many touchdowns in the weeks he played. However, as was pointed out, Ball was up against more in defenders at the line, and had a much more impressive yards gained after contact than Hillman. Hillman promptly suffered an injury, and the week Ball came back he suffered another season-ending injury. And the rest of the season is C.J. Anderson's history. But what about this season?
The good: Hillman has speed on his side, as Topher Doll pointed out in his scouting article, Hillman rarely runs for a loss because he gets to the line of scrimmage so quickly. He also uses his speed to his advantage, coupled with agility and good awareness when dodging defenders. Having this combination of skills makes him a good option for the Broncos to have in 3rd and short situations, as well as the chance for break-away runs.
Did Hillman do enough in '14 to earn snaps in '15?
We work to scout Broncos fourth-year running back Ronnie Hillman.
Hillman's ball security has improved since the Colts fumble, surrendering only one last season. Working to improve will give him more of Peyton's trust, and this could also translate to Hillman becoming his go-to receiving back. Kubiak's zone-blocking offense is incredibly running back-friendly; it could be anyone's game.
The bad: Although Hillman does have strengths in certain areas, Anderson is still better in all of them. In 2014 Anderson never fumbled, Hillman fumbled once. Hillman was a good receiver in 2014, but not as good as Anderson, who accounted for 60% of RB receiving yards even though he started less than half the games. Hillman is 2 inches taller, but 30 pounds lighter than C.J. Anderson. This gives him a disadvantage when it comes to breaking tackles and blocking. When Hillman was blocking, he allowed more pressure on Manning than Anderson. Hillman has the understanding and ability to block well and run through defenders, but his size prevents him from doing it better than the Broncos' other running back options.
Quotable: When asked about teaming up with C.J. Anderson upon his return from injury, just in time for the playoffs:
"He’s having a great season and I’m just coming in and playing my role now. I think it’s a good 1-2 punch. I’m fast, a little faster than him, and he’s a little bigger than me. I think it’s definitely good for the team."
Roster status: While C.J. Anderson is no doubt going to start ahead of Ronnie Hillman, there is still a question of whether Hillman or Ball will be the number 2, or if Kubiak with go with Juwan Thompson as a fullback. Although Hillman's numbers were better last season, Ball spent almost the entire season injured and played against harder run defense schemes. I predict that Ball will be listed as the number two on the depth chart, but Hillman will end up getting equal or more carries than him unless Ball really breaks out and proves he is the running back Elway (and Pete Baron) hoped for when he was drafted. From a fantasy standpoint, he could be a good value to stash on the bench. However, this is a huge unknown before we can see the Kubiak/Manning offense in action.