In Cleveland, Peyton Hillis might not have the famous name that Brady Quinn has, but by the end of the 2010 season he may be a household name.
Hillis is a versatile offensive player from Arkansas, and for four seasons he was the starting fullback at Arkansas. He helped lead NFL standouts Felix Jones and Darren McFadden to record-breaking numbers as Razorbacks.
With Hillis punching holes in the defense, McFadden ran into the runner-up position for the Heisman award behind Ohio State standout Troy Smith. In addition to his fullback duties, he played tight end. He also made big contributions to special teams as a punt returner.
After his senior season at Arkansas, Hillis graduated with a degree in Sociology, and declared for the 2008 NFL Draft with a group of five teammates.
According to scouting reports, Hillis' strengths include being an excellent receiver out of the backfield, keeping forward motion with his pad level low, taking good angles while blocking, and having above-average balance and strength when breaking tackles. There are concerns about his height, 6'1" and weight of 240 pounds, durability, and about the fact that he might only ever be a "tweener" in the pros.
Running a 4.58 at the combine, the same time the Chiefs' Dexter McCluster ran this year, wasn't enough to impress scouts and was drafted at No. 227 overall in the seventh round by the Denver Broncos.
Under Mike Shanahan, Peyton showed great promise in the Broncos' offense, rushing for 343 yards on 68 touches in his rookie season. The 2008 season also saw him earning the Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week and NFL Ground Player of the Week honors. Unfortunately, during the next season under new coach Josh McDaniels, Hillis was buried in the depth chart and saw very little field time.
Fast forward to this season, the Browns acquired Hillis, a sixth-round draft pick in 2011, and a conditional pick in 2012 from the Denver Broncos in a deal for former starting quarterback Brady Quinn.
So far in Browns' camps, the 24 year old Hillis has shown solid poise and strength on the field, prompting head coach Eric Mangini to claim, “He catches the ball well out of the backfield. He’s 245 pounds and he is a really physical runner. That's going to add an element to the offense that’s a little bit different.”
The idea that the usually reserved head coach Eric Mangini is excited about Hillis and speaking in such detail could lead anyone to believe that the coach's plans for this season feature Peyton Hillis.
“You could use him as the tailback and Vickers as the fullback and you get a lot bigger,” Mangini said. “You could use him as a fullback with Jerome, and both of those guys are really effective catching the ball and even running with the ball. You can mix him in a lot of different places. He’s played on special teams.”