Ronnie Hillman was drafted to be the running back capable of chewing up large chunks of yardage if given a lane to run through. There is a perception among the fanbase that he hasn't been able to consistently do this. There are many excuses offered including:
- Misuse by the offensive coordinator
- Poor offensive line
I'm not going to specifically address these excuses, but I'm sure they will be the subject of much discussion in the comments. I'm going to look at what the numbers tell us about what Hillman has or has not been able to do.
Hillman has been in the NFL since 2012, so let's compare him to other RBs during that timeframe (2012-2015). Has he been able to generate long runs? In other words, has Ronnie been able to do what he was drafted to do?
First, let's define a "long" run. I chose to define that as 20 or more yards. Some people call these chunk runs because they gain a chunk of yardage. There are a fair number of RBs capable of ripping off 20+ yard runs, so here they are with a percentage for how often they get those chunk runs.
Chunk Runs - 2012-2015 RB runs of 20 or more yards
|Player||> or = 20 yd runs||2012-2015 attempts||>or=20%|
RBs with 10 or more runs of > or = 20 yd 2012-2015 included.
Adrian Peterson has the most long runs at 45 during this four-year span. From a percentage standpoint, Justin Forsett has the greatest percentage on this list, and it's not even close. It's interesting to note that most of Forsett's runs came in 2014 with Gary Kubiak as his OC.
I highlighted C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Anderson is near the top of the list while Hillman is near the bottom (though not the worst). Note that Hillman's company on the bottom is almost all large punishing RBs.
Wasted Runs - runs that gain the offense 1 or fewer yards
|Running Back||2012-2015 attempts||2012-2015 runs 1 yd or less||wasted run %|
I'm calling runs that gain one or fewer yards "wasted runs." You can see above how all of the RBs from the first table compare in terms of how often a hand-off to them gains the offense little or nothing. I have removed short yardage carries for first downs or TDs from this analysis so RBs are not getting penalized for being "third and goal" or "fourth and 1" stalwarts.
Again in the table above we see that Anderson has outperformed Hillman in terms of not having wasted runs. While Anderson is not in Marshawn Lynch's league (yet), he's also nowhere near the king-of-wasted-runs Isaiah Crowell. We noted in the first table that Jennings is similar in his game to Hillman; it's interesting to see that Jennings has the lowest percentage of wasted runs on this list while Hillman has one of the highest. It does not hurt that Jennings is 20-30 pounds heavier than Ronnie, so he can break tackles in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage more easily.
So why did we bring Hillman back?
The first table showed that Hillman is not very good at getting chunk runs. The second table showed that he is not very good at making people miss in the backfield and/or breaking arm tackles to make a two (or more) yard runs out of nothing. Those two are the bad.
But here's the good.
The first reason we brought Hillman back has to be cost. He was relatively cheap to re-sign, although a rookie RB would have been cheaper. Hillman's cap number for 2016 is $2 million. A late-round rookie would have a cap number of roughly one quarter of that.
But what Hillman brings that a rookie doesn't is experience, particularly experience in the Kubiak/Dennison offense. That is the second reason, and it's tied closely to the third - Hillman was arguably the best of our RBs at blitz pickup last season, but he was never able to generate much as a receiver out of the backfield (his career-long gain of a catch is 29 yards, and he has one career-receiving TD - I should have put that in with the "bad").
Hillman's best quality is his ability to run outside the tackles. That, in my opinion, is why he was re-signed.
Outside Runs 2012-2015 - Top 20 RBs Shown
minimum 40 carries, only RBs shown.
The table above shows the top 20 RBs in the NFL in terms of yards per carry on outside runs during the timespan. Jamaal Charles is elite when running outside the tackles, but Anderson is no slouch.
Again we see Anderson has outperformed Hillman, but Hillman is still near the top of this list (unlike the other two tables where he was near the bottom). The worst RB on the full list (not just the top 20) is Alfred Blue, who only averages 2.44 yards per carry on outside runs.
So do you agree the re-signing of Ronnie Hillman was a smart move by the Broncos' front office?