Measurables: 5-foot-10, 195 pounds.
2014 stats: 106 carries, 434 yards (4.1 YPC), three touchdowns, 21 receptions, 139 yards, one touchdown.
Ronnie Hillman’s collegiate career was explosive and prolific. As a redshirt sophomore in 2011, he rushed for 1,711 yards and 19 touchdowns on the way to earning first team All-Mountain West Conference honors. The MWC 2010 Freshman of the Year had a collegiate experience that was short and sweet. He left San Diego State ranked No. 3 on the school’s all-time rushing list (only two seasons).
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When the Denver Broncos selected him with the No. 67 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Hillman entered the league as the youngest player among all 32 teams. And it showed. Early in his career, he found himself in the doghouse with the coaching staff on more than one occasion and struggled to develop an NFL body.
As time went on, Hillman improved on an off the field. At only 195 pounds, he’s always lacked the size to be an every-down running back in the NFL, but last season, when the Broncos starter, Montee Ball, went down with a groin injury early, Hillman finally got his chance to start.
He shined. From Weeks 5 through 8, he became a fantasy football darling, totaling 421 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns as the Broncos featured back, including two 100-yard rushing games. Alas, just when he was really picking up momentum, he injured his ankle in a Week 9 bout with Oakland, giving rise to C.J. Anderson, who took the starting job and never looked back.
Looking ahead, Hillman’s place with the team is on uncertain ground. Although he’s a high-round John Elway draft pick, there’s a new coaching staff in town and Hillman will have to prove himself to them. He’s not off to a great start.
During offseason training activities, there were rumblings out of Dove Valley that Hillman was struggling to pick up Gary Kubiak’s offense, the zone scheme. He still has time to remedy the situation, but it surely wasn’t a great first impression.
Some Broncos analysts don’t think Hillman is well-suited to the zone scheme. However, he’s quick and can be explosive on his first cut downhill. The biggest issue for Hillman is that he almost always goes down on first contact. Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison need their running backs to be more elusive.
Anderson will be given the opportunity to be the starting running back, with Ball behind him. Beyond those two, it’s an open competition. Hillman will be competing with Jeremy Stewart (picked up off waivers last season) and two former undrafted runners in Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs.
Thompson made the final roster as an UDFA last season. Bibbs spent some time on the active roster, but mostly spent his season on the practice squad. Both players are great fits in the ZBS. Hillman faces the stiffest competition of his career.
It’ll be interesting to see if he has truly turned the corner in his maturity and development as a player. If not, Ronnie Hillman could very well be a camp casualty. At this stage, however, it’s too soon to know and until we see how he performs in training camp, which starts next Friday, we probably shouldn’t count him out.
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