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Black and Gold X's and O's | P.J. Hill: The Saints' Short-Yardage Back?

Will Osgood@@BRwillosgoodAnalyst IMay 8, 2009

MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 04: P.J. Hill #39 of the Wisconsin Badgers carries the ball for a touchdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium  October 4, 2008 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

As the Saints kick off their Rookie Mini-Camp this weekend, many questions abound for the 2009 season, which is so full of optimism.

Will Malcolm Jenkins be able to compete for a starting cornerback job? Can Chip Vaughn and Stanley Arnoux compete and play meaningful snaps on defense?  Will Thomas Morstead be the starting punter?

But perhaps no question is more important to Saints fans than this one. Have the Saints found their short-yardage running back for 2009?

This weekend will likely just be the beginning of the process to answer that question. One young man who is in contention is former Wisconsin Badger Running Back, P.J. Hill.

Here is a scouting report on the young man who left school a year early, but went undrafted.

Games Viewed:  @ Fresno State and vs. Florida State (Champs Sports Bowl)

Critical Factors: 

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Size           6.0                       Athletic Ability            6.0

Hands        6.0                       Competes                   6.0

Play Speed  6.0                       Blocking                     6.0

D & D Conversion Percentage:  All Carries:  27/39= 69.2 percent; Short-Yardage:  7/10= 70 percent.

Strengths

P.J. has good size for a back, although he looks a little small in the legs and backside. He was a workhouse back in college, despite playing alongside some other very talented running backs.

He shows good patience to pinch the gap and get outside or make a cut and run to daylight. He is shifty and has pretty quick feet to elude defenders. He is a pretty advanced pass blocker.

Weaknesses

For all P.J. does well, he has some major weaknesses. He is a very upright runner, which combined with his lack of lower body strength, doesn't figure to help his potential to gain yardage in tight spaces.

He lacks the deep speed to be able to break off long runs and finish those runs with touchdowns. He lacks the explosion to make one cut and go, or to get outside on his own. He is sloppy as a route runner, and does not catch the ball well.

Summary

P.J. is an interesting prospect for the Saints. His Down and Distance conversion percentages (in only two games) were pretty good. But he lacked the ability to break tackles and did not show the grit and determination needed to be a successful short-yardage runner.

If he can improve his effort and run hard every play, he has a chance to be a decent NFL Back. But, if he cannot, he'll likely wish he stayed in school to graduate.

Grade: 5.5 (7th/Undrafted)

The Saints do have another young running back they signed named Herb Donaldson.

Unfortunately, all I've seen of him is some YouTube video, which he looked very good in (of course, all of them do).

I do know he was extremely productive at Western Illinois. He was a two-time Walter Payton Award Finalist (the FCS Heisman). He scored an insane amount of touchdowns. He looks to run with a combination of intensity and power that most running backs do not, including Hill. He has good size, including in the lower body.

Running Back, though, is one of the few positions I am very concerned about the quality of competition he faced. He did show an ability to run inside, although on many of his runs, he was never touched until he was beyond the line of scrimmage. It is hard to know if he truly is as powerful as he looks.

I wish I could be in Metairie this weekend to see how these two young men compete. Based on the career P.J. Hill had and the way this kid from Western Illinois competed on game days, I would have to bet Donaldson would be the one to get the call for Training Camp.

The winner of this battle then gets to compete with Pierre Thomas, Lynell Hamilton, Heath Evans, among others for the short-yardage position. The good news is that there are plenty of options. The bad news is that, right now, there's no obvious answer.  

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