Fair question for Wisconsin fans to ask after Hill decided to try and make the leap from the college ranks to the professionals, something many college underclassmen have tried and failed.
The criticisms surrounding Hill are no doubt warranted, as the junior running back's carries, yards from scrimmage and touchdowns numbers have decreased every season since his stellar freshman campaign, where he rushed 311 times for 1,569 yards and 15 touchdowns.
He has been flagged for not having a sturdy upper body, not withstanding first contact and not having the breakaway speed needed for the next level. Furthermore, one of the knocks on Hill is he is injury prone. Missing his freshman season after breaking his foot in fall camp, Hill played in all 13 games his redshirt season, but wasn't the same after suffering a ‘neck stinger' in the team's ninth game – rushing for over 100 yards only once in the team's final five games, compared to seven times earlier in the season.
Last season against Indiana, Hill injured the same foot and missed 14 quarters during the stretch run. This year, Hill, who proclaimed to be in the best shape of his life, rushed for 100 yards only six times and only twice during the conference season.
The fact brings us to the major knock on Hill, his ineffectiveness against big time opponents. Against sixth-ranked Michigan in 2006, Hill was held to only 54 yards and could never help establish the running game, a big reason in UW's 14-point loss. Even against a bad Michigan team this season, Hill only could muster 70 yards in UW's shocking loss, making the Wolverines one of only three Big Ten teams Hill couldn't break the century mark against (Illinois and Ohio State being the others).
Hill struggled this season behind a veteran offensive line against the Buckeyes (63 yards) and the Nittany Lions (58 yards), the Big Ten's two BCS teams, and never showcased the elusiveness that made it hard for opponents to tackle him early in his career.
In the grand scheme of things, however, Hill's decision to leave for the NFL is the right one for multiple reasons.
- Hill leaves UW as the Badgers' No. 3 all-time rusher with 3,996 yards, behind only Ron Dayne (7,125 yards) and Anthony Davis (4,676 yards). He is also only the second player in program history (Dayne) to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. Other than possibly moving into second place on UW's career rushing list, Hill's speed wasn't going to increase, his risk of injury was going to increase and the junior had nothing more to gain by staying.
- Hill isn't going to get any quicker after another grinding season in the Big Ten. Hill, who turned 22 on January 3, was probably well aware that NFL running backs only last between five and eight years and decided to give it a shot now.
- With the potential for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wanting to put a rookie salary cap in place, Hill and plenty of other underclassmen are declaring early instead of rolling the dice and taking the payday now.
On the other side of the coin, the Badgers, while disappointed they are losing their workhorse, have to be thrilled with the horses in the stable they will get to feature next season.
The departure of Hill sets up sophomore John Clay to become the team's number one running back when spring practice begins. Clay, one of the highest ranked Wisconsin recruits in recent history, rushed 155 times for 884 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season.
Moving up into the two spot should be junior Zach Brown, who had only 55 carrier for 305 yards and three scores his sophomore season. Brown's workload decreased from his 568 yards, five touchdown freshman season, largely because of the development of Clay. Filling in for Hill during the 2006 season, Brown rushed 76 times for 421 yards and four scores, including a 250-yard performance against Minnesota.
Following Brown, sophomore Bradie Ewing, who rushed four times for 14 yards and a touchdown last season but was a key contributor on special teams, Erik Smith, who redshirted last season, and highly-touted Montee Ball, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound tailback that set the Missouri state rushing record earlier in the year.
After watching Hill for the duration of his career, I believe the running back made the right decision. Hill could see the writing on the wall, as Clay's carries continued to increase as the season wore on and the pressure from the sophomore wasn't going to cease.
I don't think Hill's NFL career is going to be anything special. As best, Hill will be a second day draft pick, be fortunate to make a 53-man roster and have a journeyman career. Just like Dayne, however, Hill will be remembered as one of the top Wisconsin running backs of all time.
Not a bad consolation prize.