Blame it on the "Madden Curse." Or perhaps his advisers poor advice. Or anything else.
And fortunately, a change of venues makes it easier for Hillis to start over. He signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs this offseason (via ESPN).
Back in 2010, Hillis broke out. The bruising running back rushed for 1,177 yards, but he also showed the soft hands to catch 61 passes out of the backfield for 477 yards. And he scored a total of 13 touchdowns.
Not only did Hillis miss six games last year due to illnesses including strep throat, but he averaged only 3.6 yards per carry and scored just three touchdowns.
Fortunately for Hillis, he will be reunited with his former offensive coordinator from 2010—Brian Daboll has become the Chiefs offensive coordinator this offseason.
One of the things that may hold Hillis back is the presence of Jamaal Charles, who finished second in the league in rushing in 2010. In that season, however, Charles finished second on the team in carries (190) behind Thomas Jones (245). While I still expect Charles to get more touches than Hillis, I don't expect a huge disparity in workloads between the two backs.
Perhaps 40-45 percent of the carries go to Hillis?
Charles tore his ACL in Week 2 last year, but he should be ready for the start of the season. That said, he won't likely be as explosive this year as he was before the injury, and the Chiefs will likely try to avoid overworking Charles, especially early in the season.
If Charles is not ready or has a set back, however, Hillis will/may be able to exploit that.
Two seasons ago, the Chiefs led the NFL in rushing attempts (556) and ranked in the bottom four in the league in pass attempts. Even without Jamaal Charles for most of last year, the Chiefs were still committed to the run. Their 487 rush attempts ranked fifth in the NFL.
My current projections have Hillis rushing the ball 175 times, but it wouldn't surprise me if both Hillis and Charles exceed 200 carries.
(Strength of) Schedule
Based on the cumulative fantasy points allowed to running backs last year by all of the Chiefs opponents this year, Hillis and Chiefs' RBs have the second most favorable schedule from a fantasy perspective and fourth easiest in the fantasy postseason (Weeks 14-16).
Here is the Chiefs schedule down the stretch: CAR (W13), CLE (W14), OAK (W15) and IND (W16). All four of those teams ranked in the bottom eight in the NFL in rushing defense last year.
Playing for his next contract, Hillis will have every incentive to make every carry count. Especially if you draft Charles, it makes sense to grab Hillis later as his handcuff. Even if you don't get Charles, however, Hillis has some upside from where he is being drafted.
Depending on where he ends up after the 2012 season, Hillis could find himself in a more favorable situation as a team's No. 1 option. Although Hillis is 26 years old, he has only 512 carries in his NFL career and 203 carries in his four seasons at Arkansas.
2012 Projection: 775 rushing yards, 175 receiving yards, 25 receptions, six combined TDs
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