What Does Peyton Hillis Still Offer at This Stage in His Career?

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What Does Peyton Hillis Still Offer at This Stage in His Career?
USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not be getting the next coming of Mike Alstott in newly-signed running back Peyton Hillis, but the former Madden cover boy does provide the running back position with some much-needed depth and experience.

According to Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times, the Bucs agreed on a one-year deal with Hillis, who played the 2012 season with the Kansas City Chiefs, but was an unsigned free agent for most of this offseason. 

The reasons for Hillis not having a job deep into July are fairly obvious. 

For starters, the 27-year-old back has rushed for just 896 yards and four touchdowns on 246 carries (3.6 yards/carry) since his beastly 2010 season, which saw Hillis break out for the Cleveland Browns with 1,177 yards and 11 scores. His time in Cleveland was derailed by a messy contract situation in 2011 that ultimately paved the way for Hillis to sign a one-year deal with the Chiefs, just two years after becoming the focal point of the Browns offense. 

Overall, his 2012 season in Kansas City was a disaster. According to Football Outsiders, only four running backs last season had a worse DYAR, or defensive-adjusted yards over replacement, than Hillis (minimum 20 rushes). FO uses the stat to measure a player's value compared to a replacement, with adjustments for opponent and situation.

Injuries have been another huge factor, as Hillis has missed nine games over the last two seasons while dealing with a number of nagging injuries. NFL teams don't want average running backs who can't stay on the field.

As easy as it is to understand why Hillis was still on the market this late in July, it's just as simple to grasp why the Bucs finally gave him a home. 

While breakout 2012 rookie Doug Martin is locked in as the No. 1 back, the team lacked a proven backup behind him. Before the signing of Hillis, the Bucs were looking at some combination of Brian Leonard (646 rushing yards over six NFL seasons), Mike James (sixth-round rookie) and Michael Smith (2012 seventh-round pick) to back up Martin in 2013. 

Considering Leonard hasn't carried the football more than 40 times since his rookie season in 2007, and James and Smith have combined for zero NFL carries, Tampa Bay would have been rolling the dice at backup running back in an offense that figures to heavily feature the run in 2013.

There's also reason to think Hillis can step into the role vacated by LeGarrette Blount, too. 

While Hillis averaged just 3.6 yards per carry (career low) in 2012, he remained the kind of battering-ram back he's become known to be. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hillis averaged a solid 2.4 yards after contact and broke seven tackles over just 85 carries. He broke another two tackles as a receiver (10 receptions). 

In a backup role to Martin last season, Blount failed to break a single tackle and averaged just 1.8 yards after contact. Danny Ware, who received 11 carries for the Bucs in 2012, also broke zero tackles and averaged 1.8 yards after contact. Neither were effective in short-yardage or goal-line situations.

Given last year's stats, one could assume that Hillis will be an upgrade over both players if he wins the primary backup job in camp. 

Also, the Bucs were likely intrigued by Hillis' Week 16 performance against the Indianapolis Colts, who he burned for 101 yards on just 15 carries. As a change-of-pace option to Jamaal Charles, Hillis powered through the Colts' shaky defense with several runs reminiscent of his 2010 season. Overall, he broke four tackles and tallied 60 of his 101 yards after contact. 

Hillis remains at his best as a runner when he's taking tacklers head-on. He'll never be a shifty back capable of making people miss in the open field or a speedster who can turn the corner. But power? He has plenty of that. 

Watch the clip below, in which he exchanges unpleasantries with Aubrayo Franklin (who weighs 320 pounds) in the backfield:

The Bucs will be able to point to his performance against the Colts and clips like the one above when directing Hillis in what they want out of him in 2013. 

Obviously, Tampa Bay doesn't need a starter at running back. Martin showed last season that he's one of the NFL's up-and-coming stars at the position. But the Bucs do need a tough and experienced backup to spell Martin on occasion, win in short-yardage situations and provide assurance should anything happen to the franchise running back.

Even after two disappointing seasons he'd rather forget, Hillis is still capable of providing check marks to all three areas for Tampa Bay next season. 

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