Peyton Hillis: Unappreciated, Unstoppable, And Untapped
The big news in Denver over the past 24 hours has been the trade that landed Josh McDaniels his supposed "golden boy", Brady Quinn, the type of quarterback he was reaching for when he tried to trade for Matt Cassel and spurned Jay Cutler.
Did he get what he was looking for? Perhaps, and perhaps not.
However, the irony in this trade involves a player that very few people are talking about. He is the consummate team and football player, yet McDaniels, a supposed "guy's guy" had no use for him.
Peyton Hillis, a former fullback for the Arkansas Razorbacks, turned running back phenom and savior during the Broncos surging offensive effort in 2008, is now in a new land, facing horizons that are even less certain that they were when he was riding the bench in Denver.
Despite stepping up amidst countless injuries at the running back position in 2008 and rushing for over 340 yards and five scores on just 68 carries, Hillis was relegated to back-up duty without hesitation when McDaniels came on board.
The truth is, Hillis has faced countless criticism for a lack of toughness, a lack of elite blocking ability, and a lack of elite speed for the tailback position.
Tell that to the 2008 New York Jets, who entered their game with the Denver Broncos in Week 13 with the top rushing defense, and proceeded to allow this stocky white kid to run all over them, amassing 129 rushing yards on just 22 carries (5.9 yards per carry), along with a touchdown in a convincing 34-17 win.
Hillis would see his season end the next week against Kansas City, as he tore his hamstring after rushing for 58 yards and a touchdown (7.3 yards per carry) on just eight attempts in the first half.
It's no coincidence that the Broncos struggled to keep their offense balanced the rest of the way, as they dropped their final three games in 2008, finishing at 8-8 and missing the playoffs.
Before Hillis could be slapped around for ridiculous flaws and having his lone chance at the running back position ripped away from him, he put up four straight games with at least one touchdown, while averaging at least 4.3 yards per carry in each game during that span.
His thanks over the 2009 off-season? Josh McDaniels stepped in, signed J.J. Arrington (who was then released, and now has been brought back again), brought in Lamont Jordan (arguably washed up), Correll Buckhalter, and then drafted Knowshon Moreno (a guy who actually ran a slower 40 time than Hillis).
On top of being severely demoted, Hillis was completely left out of the Broncos gameplan, despite also possessing excellent receiving skills, fully exhibited by an impressive seven-catch, 116-yard and one score performance against the Miami Dolphins in Week nine of 2008.
It was clear that, for whatever reason, Hillis was not going to be given a chance at tailback, tight end, and wasn't even strongly considered to be the lead fullback, a job which was given to Spencer Larsen.
In regards to Hillis not being able to handle lead-blocking duties, just ask his coaches and first-round selected teammates, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
Blocking has never and will never be an issue for Hillis. It's as simple as that.
As for his toughness, Hillis has received criticism for going down with a torn hamstring, but in turn, receives recognition for his repeated attempts to persuade former head coach Mike Shanahan to allow him to play through the injury.
Fast forward to the 2009 season, where Hillis was granted just four rushing attempts through the first three weeks, while also receiving high criticism for one lost fumble, while fellow teammate Knowshon Moreno ended up putting the ball on the ground four times over the course of the season.
Hillis then went on an eight game drought with zero carries, and just three offensive touches, until he finally got some grind (due to injury), and produced 47 yards on seven carries (6.7 yards per carry).
Despite remaining quiet about his lack of use and actually performing well in the only game where he ran the ball more than twice, Hillis was once again demoted into obscurity, and touched the ball just two more times in Denver's remaining four games.
After all that Hillis has been through, the hamstring injury, the false accusations and ridiculous knocks, and the severe lack of offensive inclusion, he got to see his name grace ESPN in a trade for Brady Quinn.
For a guy that is nothing but a hard-worker and a solid, versatile talent, this rain storm of negativity and mis-use has come to an apex that suggests that he's either coming to a better place, or he is quite possibly entering the ultimate fading of his short career.
Let's hope, for all things that are still good about the NFL, that it is not the latter.
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