Ronnie Hillman sheds a would-be tackler in a Sept. 24 , 2011 game against Michigan.
"America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed." –Will Ferrell
Hillman's career statistics sit at zero across the board. The former San Diego State Aztec won't record his first carry or yard until August 9, when the Broncos shake off the rust in a preseason exhibition against the Chicago Bears. And, at the very earliest, he won't record his first official statistic until Denver's first regular season game on September 9.
As you guessed, however, we aren't talking about a finite statistic in a physical record book, but of something less tangible, something that technically can't be measured.
This poses the question: Could Ronnie Hillman be the most fleet-footed back in Denver Broncos franchise history?
To even touch upon the subject immediately encroaches into territory of pure conjecture. One would have to define what game speed truly is. To do so is somewhat impossible, since most have their own opinions and ideas as to what that may or may not be. The draftniks of this world revert to the old 40-yard dash more often than not.
It follows that if we were going by Mel Kiper's definition of speed, Tatum Bell would take the cake. But what good is an electronically timed speed if you use it as a means to run into your blockers' backs? What good is being able to blanket a football field like only Bo knows if you can't get three steps without tripping?
Let us define "speed" as a visual perception of a combination of two factors—straight-line speed and lateral burst. Sure, opinions will vary, but it gets to the heart of the issue.
I mean no disrespect to Floyd Little or Clinton Portis, or any other Broncos speedsters I may be omitting. The thing is, I believe Hillman may have the most complete blend of speed and quickness of any player to don the orange and blue. Sure, he'd probably get toasted by a 25-year-old Portis in a foot race. Frankly though, Portis was never a slasher, even in his 200-pound days. He was a one-cut, no-nonsense burner. He had the ability to make people miss, but when you look at the grainy pre-YouTube footage, Portis' lateral agility was simply a nice complement to his 96-overall Madden speed rating. You wouldn't necessarily look at his lateral agility with the same wide eyes that you would for his speed.
As for Little, the Hall-of-Famer and franchise saint had undeniable talent, but along with skill came a serious case of bowleggedness. Little used his parenthetical leg shape to his advantage—it widened his center of gravity, making him much harder to bring down from all angles. Still, the human body can't perform to its maximum potential without anatomical perfection (or alternatively, carbon fiber prosthetics), and when you take a look at my dad's old "Orange Sunday" VHS tapes you see that the legend didn't quite have that extra gear, even against what some might call inferior competition.
Quentin Griffin was a quick little imp, but he only clocked in at 4.62 in the 40-yard-dash. I hate to use nothing but a 40 time as my "proof," but a 4.62 is a slow enough straight-line time to make you recount that his stride length likely hampered the ground he covered.
One thing is for sure—we will be seeing something we haven't seen in at least 15 years. Yes, a Bronco who can fly AND change direction on a dime at equally astonishing levels.
It will be exciting. It will be refreshing. It will be Ronnie Tsunami.