Ronnie Hillman was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2012 with the idea that, at the very worst, he would turn into one of the best change of pace back in the NFL. The hope was Hillman would provide Peyton Manning with a receiving threat out of the backfield, a back that could turn a five yard swing pass into a 70 yard score.
The thought was and maybe still is that with all of the receiving talent the Broncos have down the field, a back like Hillman would have a field day matched up against linebackers. To this point though, Hillman has been a disappointment but he has one last shot to make it right.
Montee Ball is the unquestioned starter for the Broncos but the competition to be his primary backup is wide open. There are never going to admit this, nor should they, but I’m guessing that the Broncos would love for Hillman to win that job. Despite his struggles, Hillman brings so many things to the table that are a perfect fit in this offense.
We’ve all ready touched on what type of a weapon Hillman could be out of the backfield but here’s a little taste. Its 3rd and five and the Broncos lineup in a three wide receiver set with tight-end Julius Thomas also in the slot. The defense is going to be forced to make a decision on who to double and everyone else is going to see single coverage.
Imagine for this one play that the defense manages to cover all four of those guys but only have a linebacker left to cover Hillman out of the backfield. Hillman easily beats the coverage and catches a seven yard flat pass for the first down. Now Hillman has the ball in the open field while the rest of the defense is running with their backs turned. Hillman turns a seven yard reception into a 50 yard gain. That’s the kind of play Hillman can make in this offense if his head is finally right.
Hillman is also perfectly suited for the stretch running play that is a staple of a Manning led offense. The play is designed to start off tackle but the back has the opportunity to bounce it outside and get into space. As we just touched on, Hillman in open space can give the Broncos offense a dimension they did not have last season.
Ball is going to be the every down back and the guy that gets the tough inside yards for the Broncos, but there’s a role for Hillman if he’s ready.
For those types of scenarios to unfold, Hillman has some things to prove and it starts with ball security. Fumbles were the primary reason why he was either sitting on the bench or deactivated for a majority of the 2013 season. He can’t fumble once; not in mini-camp, not in training camp and definitely not in the preseason games. One fumble from Hillman and his career with the Broncos is likely over.
Hillman must also prove he can be a professional and accept his role in this offense. It’s a good sign that he wants to compete for the starting job but barring an injury to Ball, that’s not happening. The coaching staff needs to see a guy who is attentive in meetings, works harder than anyone in practice and does his job in the games.
There’s no doubting Hillman’s talent, it’s been there since the day the Broncos drafted him but there have been a lot of talented players who never made it at this level. The Broncos have given Hillman every opportunity to find his role in the offense, but this is his last shot.
It’s all in his hands, he can’t fumble.