Closer Look: San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman
Hillman is going to be a player that some teams will look back on and regret not drafting. The NFL Advisory Committee told him that he could be drafted as early as the third round, which seems fitting; however, I look at Hillman as one of the most skilled running backs going into the draft.
Hillman has been extremely productive with all the carries he’s seen, and that comes as no surprise, because he has many strengths and few weaknesses. That showed when he rushed for 1,711 yards (3rd in the nation) and rushed for 19 touchdowns (tied for 7th in the nation) for SDSU last year.
Ultimately one of his most important strengths is his ability to set up his own blockers and not always need a big hole to gain solid yardage. The way he does this, is by adjusting his pad level and shoulders to get through the hole, and this could be huge for him in the NFL; along with his excellent feet that allow him to jump cut across multiple gaps on any given play. That amazing make-you-miss ability and amazing footwork that contributes to his sensational jukes will definitely help his draft stock and NFL career.
One of the reasons he can break out of small holes is because of his suddenness and explosion through the hole. He also runs through arm tackles with ease, sporting a surprisingly powerful stiff arm for a man of his stature. Not to mention, he can drop his pad level to present a smaller target and run through initial contact.
Runners coming out of college are always labeled as either inside or outside guys, but Hillman can do both. Despite his short frame at 5-10 and 190 pounds, he can be equally effective both as an inside and outside runner. He does seem to feel more comfortable going outside the tackle and sometimes forces himself to do so, however his inside game is great when he dedicates himself to it.
Along with his ankle breakers and amazing footwork he has a good goal line game. As mentioned, he can fit through small holes at ease and that’s great for the goal line. Also, at the next level coaches wouldn’t need to take him out if they have an outside goal line run play or an inside goal line run play, because he is skilled at both.
Hillman finished the year with 24 receptions for 270 yards and a touchdown, which doesn’t jump off the page as anything spectacular. When asking whether or not he can catch, its rather simple, he can. The only reason for his less than stellar numbers, stems back to a lack of real opportunity or use in that capacity. In the limited targets he has received, Ronnie Hillman has caught the ball with reliable hands and even showcases some sideline awareness on throws outside the numbers. On the negative side, he is 5-10 and won’t create much separation at the point of the catch. Not to mention due to his size he is easier to cover and or push off of. In order to fully maximize Hillman’s talents, whichever team that drafts him will likely utilize some combination of short swing routes and screen plays; Hillman does have the ability to rack up a high number of all-purpose yards.
At the next level you have to have as many weapons in your arsenal as possible, and Hillman does have his footing, ankle breakers, and jukes down. However, he doesn’t have the spin move mastered, as a matter of fact he barely ever uses it. In the NFL when you have faster, stronger, more agile defenders coming right for you, you might need to spin out of their way and that may be a problem for Hillman. He needs to work on his spin move because even though he didn’t need it in college he will most certainly need it in the NFL.
The biggest weakness to Ronnie Hillman’s game, is his upright running style; smallish backs combined with poor pad level spell disaster at the NFL level. He gets great angles on defenders but he isn’t overly physical and due to his height not only is knocked down easier, but those hits will wear on him and overall will allow him to play less downs. That is why some people are leaning to him becoming a reliable backup or a running back for a team that runs a committee of backs.
Hillman will learn early what he needs to work on once he reaches the NFL and he will be very successful and multitalented by then. No matter the round he is drafted in, Hillman will definitely be a great running back and one to keep an eye on.
Best Fit: Cincinnati Bengals would be great for Hillman. He would go into a team that is unsure of who their starting running back will be. So, essentially he would go into a committee of back and that would be perfect for his maturing process. Also, the Bengals are young and Hillman would benefit greatly growing up with the team.
X-Factor: His combination of suddenness, quick feet, and lateral agility will ultimately separate him from the some of the other mid tiered running backs in the draft.
Where he will be drafted: This could honestly go either way, but likely the 4th round.
Where he should be drafted: Middle/late 3rd or start of the 4th because his production can’t be a fluke, this guy is raw but has great potential!
NFL Comparison: Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints