Patriots Free Agency: Could Le'Ron McClain Be New England's Peyton Hillis?

Aaron DodgeAnalyst IMarch 10, 2011

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In one swift move on March 14, 2010, former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels forever changed the direction of two franchises and the complexion of the entire league.

At the time he was the newly hired head coach of the Denver Broncos and was chomping at the bit to re-work his roster according to his new schemes. Apparently in McDaniels' realm, you don't need a proven franchise quarterback, star wide receiver, or a 240-pound dominant running back in the making. 

Jay Cutler was shipped to the Chicago Bears on April 2nd, 2010. Brandon Marshall received his pink slip just 12 days later when the Broncos sent him to the Miami Dolphins.

In what now looks like an honest effort to cripple the franchise, McDaniels gift wrapped running back Peyton Hillis and a sixth round pick only asking for quarterback Brady Quinn in return from the Cleveland Browns in March of the following season.

Hillis led the Broncos in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2008, despite being drafted in the seventh round that year and despite the fact that he started the year as the starting fullback, not even listed on the depth chart for running backs.

After rotting on Denver's depth charts in 2009 the beast was finally allowed to run wild in 2010 following his trade. Hillis gained 1,177 yards on 270 carries and added 11 touchdowns to his breakout season in Cleveland.

It makes you wonder just how many more of these stories haven't happened yet.

Enter Le'Ron McClain.

The 260-pound, 26-year-old has endured circumstances similar to that of Hillis in Denver. Selected in the 4th round of the 2007 NFL Draft, McClain began his career as a fullback for the Baltimore Ravens.

His ceiling as a runner began to be questioned during his 2008 Pro-Bowl season which saw the big man bust out for 902 yards on 232 carries and 10 touchdowns. He returned to the obscurity of fullback in 2009 only carrying the ball 46 times. He did notch his second consecutive Pro-Bowl nod though, this time at his original position.

McClain saw even fewer carries in 2010, and with his rookie contract expiring, the unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team and you can bet he's looking for a an opportunity to tote the ball.

"When you feel like you can give a lot more and have proven you can do a lot more and all you're doing is blocking, it's a little frustrating at times when they're telling you, 'All you got to do is go block this guy,'" he said.

The New England Patriots are in need of another runner in the backfield and while McClain isn't the prototypical size or shape for a starting running back he could fit in nicely with what the team is trying to accomplish. He doesn't possess the type of speed Hillis is somehow blessed with, but there's no denying this mans talent when you watch him run.

The league is playing the waiting game for the moment while CBA negotiations are on-going, but when the free agency period is finally established look for New England to give a few hard looks in the direction of veteran running backs. Don't be surprised if McClain ends up being that back.