Today we continue our annual 90 player roster breakdown in 90 days. If you missed the previous player breakdowns, you can check them out here.
Name: Derek Wolfe
Height: 6'5" Weight: 285
Age: 26 Experience: 5th
Derek Wolfe was the Broncos' first pick of the 2012 draft, in which they traded back several times into the early second round before making a pick.
Wolfe logged 6 sacks in his rookie season and looked to be on his way to becoming the dominant player he is today.
However, a freak injury in the 2013 preseason caused him problems all throughout the year leading to a seizure in November and landing him on IR during Super Bowl 48. Mile High Report chronicled the injury and events of that season here. After battling depression, health scares and losing 20 lbs, Wolfe looked to get back on track in 2014 and carry some momentum into the 2015 season. Then, he was suspended for PEDs for the first four games of the 2015 season.
Despite all that adversity, Wolfe came off of the suspension and played extremely well last year, really turning it on over the last few games of the season, and into the playoffs. He and Malik Jackson were a dominant force on the inside for Denver's run and pass defense.
After his contract expired, he hung out on the open market for a few weeks until Denver eventually decided to bring him back on a one-year contract worth $2m with very little guarantees. At the time, the signing made a lot of sense as Denver had no proven #2 back to compliment CJ Anderson. Now with Devontae Booker dropping into Denver's lap via the draft, Hillman finds himself fighting for a roster spot, but more on that later.
The Good: Joe Mahoney did a great piece a few weeks ago breaking down our running game by the numbers. In that analysis I was surprised to find that Ronnie Hillman had a lower percentage of negative and no gain runs than CJ Anderson. Ronnie typically gets a bad rap for losing yards and killing drives, but statistically he performed better than CJ Anderson last year.
I went back and watched a lot of Ronnie's plays from last year and forgot how well he played at times and that he had four 100 yard games. I made a few gifs of plays that stuck out to me as I watched.
We all remember the big run versus the Vikings. Hillman really showcased his speed on this play. In the angle below you can see him turn on the jets to make it past the safety. Side note: this play was blocked up super well by Owen Daniels and Virgil Green. Green held his block on a defensive end for the majority of the play.
On both of the plays above Hillman showcases his 4.4 speed out on the edge.
#Broncos notes: this zone run game needs C.J. Anderson AND Ronnie Hillman. Anderson best all-around, Hillman best pure wheels.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) August 1, 2016
These last two plays he showcased some elusiveness and ability to pick his way through traffic.
All of these plays have something in common. They occurred outside the tackles, which is Hillman's strongest area. While he showed some ability inside the tackles last year as well, the majority of his impact comes on the edge.
The Bad: Hillman has apparently been having a pretty rough camp so far and has been losing snaps to Booker and Kapri Bibbs.
To me, his biggest weakness is that he is what he is. He's not going to run over anyone or be the guy that you want pounding the rock for 20+ carries every week, or consistently pick up tough yards on the goal line or between the tackles. His ceiling is likely as a #2/change of pace guy, which is what we drafted him for and brought him back to be.
The only other negative on Hillman is that you would like to see him get more involved in the passing game. Although his last two seasons have seen an uptick in receptions, CJ Anderson catches more balls than Ronnie. For a guy as quick as he is, you would like to see him out in space more.
Ronnie Hillman involved on special teams in camp. Asked if ST is part of the evaluation for the backs, Kubiak said: pic.twitter.com/KZdpOQgY1r— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) July 30, 2016
Status: With the reports coming out recently, I think Ronnie is fighting for his job and will need to step it up in camp and show consistency in pre-season to not get beat out by some of the young guys gunning for his spot. The low guarantees on his contract make it easy to move on.
At the same time, his familiarity in the system is a plus and he has proven he can produce in it. I think someone is going to have to break out and play really well in order to knock Hillman off the roster.