In the ever-important third preseason game, Saturday, against the visiting Los Angeles Rams, Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman needed a big game to help cement his spot on the 53-man roster as part of a crowded running backs room.
Fortunately for the fifth-year running back out of San Diego State, he came up with a big game, rushing for 45 yards and an important touchdown in the second half on just five carries, playing a big part in Denver’s 17-9 win over the Rams.
Just how successful was Hillman on the ground? Let’s take a look at some film review.
That alone wasn’t a good look for Hillman as part of his role with the team and future outlook, but the veteran responded very well, running hard and making decisive reads on each run.
On his first carry, Hillman is lined up as the sidecar right of Paxton Lynch in the shotgun. At the snap, Hillman takes the read-handoff to the left and sets up the block of rookie Aaron Neary well, using a hard cut to his right to jump inside and find a lane up the field.
Once he’s up the field, Hillman puts his head down and churns up as many yards as he can.
The cut into the hole is what really stands out though, and really sets him apart from Anderson and Booker in the backfield. While those two are power runners, Hillman brings a little bit more juice to the room and is a solid change-of-pace back.
By getting Hillman involved on the drive, it set up the score.
Lined up as the single back behind Lynch under center, Hillman goes off the left side again and features a great jump cut to get into the hole and up the field for the solid gain.
The left side of the line doesn’t help Hillman much again as they get pushed into the backfield, but as more of a scatback than his fellow running backs, Hillman is able to cut quickly into the hole and push towards the goal line.
Lowering the shoulder at the end for a few more yards is a nice touch and likely played well with the coaching staff capping off a strong run.
This is where Hillman caps off a strong drive with a solid touchdown run off the left side of the line once again.
A lot of credit has to go to fullback Juwan Thompson for the touchdown, as the lead blocker clears out multiple defenders, giving Hillman a clean, clear lane to the goal line for the score.
Hillman is very quick and decisive on this run by following Thompson through the crease without worrying about making defenders miss or having to lower the boom.
Granted, most running backs in the NFL should score on this run, but it’s nice to see from Hillman with his back to the wall regarding a roster spot.
On Hillman’s last carry of the game, the veteran takes the handoff out of the shotgun over the left side for his longest gain of the night—a 21-yard romp.
It’s not really a flashy play because he’s really unimpeded on the run, but showcasing his speed off the edge is what I like about this run. That’s the element of his game that makes him different from his other fellow running backs, and one that should keep him on the roster as an important piece for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Hillman’s performance against the Rams should solidify his roster spot, especially consider how he’s performed throughout the preseason. On just 11 carries through three preseason games, Hillman has rushed for 79 yards and one score (7.18 yards per carry).
It would be smart for the Broncos—who will likely pound the football this year as new starter Trevor Siemian adjusts to the NFL Level—to keep four running backs, adding Kapri Bibbs into the picture.
Hillman and Anderson are known commodities, while Booker and Bibbs would offer high-upside players on a team that dealt with so many injuries last fall.
If the Broncos were to cut Hillman to get down to the 53-man roster though, the veteran would be a hot commodity on the open market. GM John Elway won’t let him go for nothing, so he could either work out a trade, or just do the smart (and easy) thing: keep Ronnie Hillman.
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Josh Carney is a Featured Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @JCarney_Sports.