The NFL has a new name slowly creeping its way into the headlines. A 6'2, 250 pound monster that runs with speed, power and purpose. His name is Peyton, and its not the one you think.
Peyton Hillis is something of a rarity in the NFL. No, I'm not talking about the fact that Hillis is a tailback of European-American descent. I'm talking about the fact that he is that rarest of running backs: the power back.
Yes, the power back. The type of smash-mouth, in your face back that wears down a defense and vultures touchdowns from your favorite diminutive back once inside the red-zone. The type of player that makes poor helpless defensive backs hear footsteps, and their arms cringe from the futile attempted tackles they will make. The type of back that is making a resurgence in the NFL.
There's a few scattered here and there: Rashard Mendenhall in Pittsburgh, Michael Turner in Atlanta, Brandon Jacobs in New Yahk, but the majority of NFL teams employ the speedy scat-back. The guy that runs a 4.3 forty, but falls down when the wind blows, or Ray Lewis breathes on them. Ray Ray's breath unfortunately didn't fare quite as well against Peyton, which leads me back to my points.
Point No. 1: Peyton Hillis is overrated. No, not on the field you silly gooses (Why is it geese? I always found it odd that the plural form of that word changes completely, while deer doesn't change at all, but I digress.) he is overrated in the headlines. You see Peyton is gaining notoriety not for his outstanding play on the field, but for his skin's melanin-content. We aren't concerned about the fact that Hillis is breathing life into a lackluster Browns' offensive attack. The fact that he adds not only ability as a runner, but also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. The not-so surprising production he has always displayed when given an opportunity. No, we are more concerned about the fact he is white.
Yes, he is white, and yes that overrates him in the media as the best of the nearly non- existent Caucasian tailback. But, and however, Mr. Hillis is more than just the poster child for the suburban-born, middle class, mid-western child who has aspirations of toting the rock in the NFL. He is a damn fine player. Can we stop talking about him being special for his skin color and talk about him being special for his abilities? Please? Thank you.
Now that we have beaten the skeleton of that pony into dust, let's talk about Point No. 2: Hillis is under-appreciated.
As a rookie in Denver, Hillis averaged a tasty 5 yards per carry (That's a first down every two times he carries the ball for those that didn't know). In his only game of the season where he was given the pigskin 20 times, he rushed for 122 yards. He even threw in a 100 yard receiving game for good measure. His season unfortunately got cut short in a game where he was well on his way to another solid performance against Kansas City. Still, Hillis had shown enough to compete for the starting tailback position the next season, right? Wrong.
Mike Shanahan, exit, stage left. Welcome to the Josh McDaniels era. McDaniels rewarded Hillis brief-but-stellar play in 2008 by giving him a whopping 13 carries in 2009. Thanks Josh. It seemed as if Peyton was to be mired in the doghouse of the hooded one for all eternity. Then as if by some miracle of divine intervention, the good lord saw fit to interject himself into McDaniels ego-driven synapses and give him a vision. A trade, yes, a trade. Peyton Hillis for Brady Quinn and a player to be named later (Doesn't that just sound cooler than 6th round draft choice?).
The man that is Mike Holmgren scooped up Mr. Hillis and plopped him smack dab in the crowded Browns backfield. Hillis was used sparingly in the preseason, and only part-time during the first two games of the regular season. Yet when all seemed lost, Hillis found himself as the main ball carrier against the Baltimore Ravens vicious defense.
Which brings me to Point No. 3: Peyton Hillis is the real deal.
Ask the Ravens, ask the Bengals. Ask the Broncos who are currently NFL rushing bottom feeders. Peyton Hillis is going to continue to pile up numbers while providing a spark to both the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Browns fans (to include Cleveland Brown, though most likely not former Patriot Peter Griffin). Peyton currently has 66 carries for 322 yards and four touchdowns. His stats in Denver his rookie season? 68 carries, 343 yards and 5 touchdowns. Can you say consistency?
Can you also say bulldozer? Because that's what Peyton Hillis is. Hillis is a load for a defense to stop, and if the passing game can pick up (hint: throw the ball to Josh Cribbs) he will be a borderline Pro-Bowl player. If he can stay healthy, he will run for over 1000 yards and add 50+ catches for the heck of it. How's that for a 7th round pick?
Now if we can just come up with a good nickname. The Hog? No, too easy given he played for Arkansas. The White Buffalo? No, invokes too much of point number 1. How about the Hulk, as he is big, mean and yet still green?
How about none of the above. My pick is: Peyton “The Ohioan Nightmare” Hillis, as his running style is reminiscent of a certain Chiefs' running back who had the same running style and same habit of running over defenders.
To finish my rant-o-Hillis, I will close with this statement: Cleveland has found a diamond in the rough. Peyton Hillis works, hard, he plays hard, and he's hard to tackle. If his play to this point is an indicator to his career, then Peyton Hillis is going to be a special player. Maybe by the end of this season we can stop calling it the “Brady Quinn Trade” and start calling it the “Peyton Hillis trade”. Or the “Josh McDaniels :I screwed that one up trade”.
I'm just saying.