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Where are they now? Catching up with former Broncos RB Peyton Hillis

In this edition of ‘Where are they now?’, we take a look at what former Denver Broncos back Peyton Hillis has been up to since his playing days

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the history of the Denver Broncos, countless players have made impacts in their own way, some long-term and others brief, and of course not every player gets remembered in the Ring of Honor.

In this series, we’ll take a look at guys who delivered a positive impact for the Broncos but whose name may have been less remembered over time. In this first edition, we’ll check in on former bruising fullback/running back Peyton Hillis.

Broncos History

Following a successful career at Arkansas primarily as a lead blocker for star running back Darren McFadden, Hillis would be taken by the Broncos in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft, where he would soon thereafter earn a spot as the team’s starting fullback.

Yet, if 2008 is remembered for nothing else (outside of it being Mike Shanahan’s final year as head coach), it will be for the “next man up” storyline in the backfield. The team was hit hard by the injury bug in the running back room, going through six starting running backs throughout the season, and eventually, Hillis’ name got called.

Embracing the shift from fullback to running back, Hillis was named as the team’s starting running back in week nine of the 2008 season. In four starts as the team’s starting back, he accumulated 305 yards on 57 carries, helping the team to a 3-1 record during that stretch.

During that fourth start, however, he would be the latest back to succumb to injury, tearing his hamstring and missing the final three games, none of which the Broncos won, costing them the playoffs. He still ended the season as the team’s top rusher, earning him fan favorite status.

The following season, new head coach Josh McDaniels, in a testament to his entire head coaching tenure, failed to utilize Hillis as he was the previous season, as the team’s previous leading rusher barely touched the football all of 2009. There were reports of he and McDaniels not getting along, and Hillis would ultimately be traded to the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2010 season.

Post-Broncos Career

Early on, it certainly appeared the Broncos’ loss was the Browns’ game, for in his first season, Hillis played like one of the league’s top backs, rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns along with 477 yards receiving on 61 catches.

His season earned him fan-favorite status, evidenced by a fan vote to elect him as the cover athlete for the Madden 2011 video game.

The following season was not as successful for Hillis, as he rushed for roughly half of his previous season total (587 yards) and fought injuries, missing six games. The season lost him favor with the Browns’ brass, who elected not to resign him.

He’d finish his career in 2015 after being relegated (albeit effective) to a backup role for both the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants.

For someone who was known for and drafted for his lead blocking ability, he turned into a surprise success as a lead back, and the man he blocked for in college, Darren McFadden, never exceeded Hillis’ single-season high rushing total.

What has Peyton Hillis been up to?

Due to a troubling history of confessions along with just being burnt out, Hillis hung up his cleats in 2015.

He would eventually dip his toe in the acting pool, starring in a low-budget horror film The Hunting, in which he reportedly hunts (or perhaps IS?) a werewolf terrorizing a small community. Enjoy the trailer below.

The film can be viewed for free on Tubi, for those interested.

On a more serious note, Hillis prides himself as a family man and shares two children with his ex-wife Amanda. He spends as much time as he can with them and showed in early 2023 he is willing to risk anything and everything for them.

In January of this year, Hillis decided to take his kids and niece to the beach, where it had stormed the night before but appeared calm enough to enjoy without much concern. Yet, that idea turned to horror soon after, as Hillis’ son and niece were pulled back by the riptide and began to drown.

Immediately jumping into action, Hillis swam out, where he gave everything his body had to narrowly save his niece first (who was in more distress) and his son. He lost consciousness upon returning to shore, suffering significant internal damage, and would not awake for 10 days. It was a horrifying moment for everyone involved, and Hillis would tell Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan it made him reflect on several things, most notably what’s most important.

Expect Hillis to continue to enjoy his retirement with his family while he continues to make a recovery from his close call, and Broncos Country should be proud to remember him as someone who contributed so much both on and off the field.