Peyton Hillis' NFL Career in Jeopardy After Release from Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jesse ReedCorrespondent ISeptember 21, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 24:  Peyton Hillis #40 of the Cleveland Browns looks on from the sidelines during the closing moments of the Browns 20-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Peyton Hillis was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday—a move that could signal the end of his NFL career. 

The news was reported by CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora:

Best known for being on the cover of Madden 12, thanks to a fan vote, Hillis' experience from his time in college at Arkansas until now has been truly unique.

Playing behind Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas, Hillis didn't get many chances to shine. But when he was pressed into duty, the bruising back made a name for himself as a touchdown machine. In his four years with the Razorbacks, Hillis scored 23 touchdowns—12 rushing and 11 receiving. 

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 25:  Peyton Hillis #22 of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks carries the ball during the game with the Louisiana State University Tigers on November 25, 2005 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The Tigers won 19-17.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

His production didn't garner him much attention when draft day came around, however. He had to wait until the seventh round of the 2008 NFL draft before he heard his name called as a Denver Broncos selection. 

As a rookie in 2008, Hillis made an immediate impact as a starting fullback with six touchdowns—five rushing and one receiving—touching the ball just 82 times. 

Watching him play, one was reminded of Mike Alstott—the stalwart fullback who played such an important role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1990s and early-2000s. 

Unfortunately, the fullback suffered a painful injury late in the season when he tore his hamstring, and he missed the start of the 2009 season as a result.

Then, in a startling move, Hillis was hardly utilized when he did return healthy. Josh McDaniels took over in Denver, and the fullback wasn't a part of his plans. He ended up getting traded to the Cleveland Browns along with a couple of draft picks in exchange for quarterback Brady Quinn

Thus the legend of Peyton Hillis was born. 

The next season, Hillis became Eric Mangini's wrecking ball on offense, and he put together a remarkable campaign.

Rushing for 1,177 yards with 11 touchdowns, the fullback added another 477 yards and two touchdowns on 61 catches. He was Cleveland's best offensive player that year, and he became a fan favorite—as his Madden cover clearly illustrates.  

But it's been all downhill from that moment for Hillis in the NFL. 

His production plummeted in every possible way in 2011, as he totaled just 717 yards and three touchdowns. 

The Browns didn't even bother offering Hillis a new contract after the season, and he signed on with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he continued to decline, totaling 371 total yards and one touchdown.

Even at the height of his career, Hillis was never an explosive athlete.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Defenders Miles Burris #56, Mike Mitchell #34 and Rolando McClain #55 of the Oakland Raiders tackle running back Peyton Hillis #40 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the second quarter on October 28, 2012 at Arrowhead Stadium
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

He has always been a rumbling mauler who made the most of his abilities. Unfortunately his abilities have waned in recent years, which is likely a big reason why the Buccaneers released him this weekend. 

Furthermore, the way offenses are run these days, Hillis' skill set is becoming obsolete. 

Teams that do still feature a fullback are looking for athletic players who can gain separation in the passing game while still featuring the strength needed to open up holes in the running game. 

At his best, Hillis was beloved by fans for his relentless attitude and blue-collar approach. He punished his opponents with gusto, winning on first contact more often than not.  

But Hillis hasn't been at his best for a few years now. 

Given the sad state of affairs on a few NFL teams at the running back position, it's possible Hillis could receive some interest as a backup. That said, nobody should be surprised if he doesn't get another contract this year.

It's likely his career in the NFL—for all intents and purposes—is already at the end. 


Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78