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Peyton Hillis and Michael Vick have a few things in common.
Both men play pro football, for starters. Both men have graced the Madden cover (the Madden curse be damned, says this writer). And last year, both came out of nowhere to be two of the best waiver wire pickups in fantasy football.
This year, however, Hillis and Vick have very different fantasy forecasts. While Vick is near the top of many drafts boards and is frequently going in the first round, Hillis is typically being placed just outside the top 10 at his own position. Hillis might not have Vick’s explosive potential, but in 2010 the man bulldozed his way to one of the best out-of-nowhere seasons in recent memory. Both of these guys were among the top 15 fantasy scoring leaders in just about any format last year. So what gives?
First, a quick review. In 2010, Hillis captured the Cleveland Browns’ starting job at tailback two games into the season and burst onto the fantasy scene with 144 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in week three. From there, Hillis reeled off five more games of 100 total yards or more and visited the end zone eight more times.
And he made things like this happen.
The Browns’ bruiser finished the season with 1,654 total yards and 13 total touchdowns – good enough to finish fourth among running backs in standard leagues. In points-per-reception leagues, Hillis’ impressive 61 grabs vaulted him to third at his position.
But Hillis slowed down as the season wound down. All of his touchdowns came in Hillis’ first 11 games. From that point forward, Hillis failed to hit pay dirt and had just one outing of over 100 total yards.
The concern among fantasy pundits is that the Hillis the world saw over those last five games is the Hillis the world will see in 2011.
Or, maybe, he might just be a one-hit wonder.
Is Hillis due for a return to earth after a mammoth 2010 campaign? Probably. Is Hillis going to be as ineffective as he was down the stretch last season? Probably not. The truth is, Hillis’ value is somewhere in the middle.
Let’s not forget that one of the most desirable attributes to chase in fantasy football has nothing to do with how good a player might be: in the fantasy world, opportunity is huge. And let’s face it, even if, say, Matt Forte is a slightly better player than Hillis overall (which is debatable; it’s just an example), you’re taking Hillis before Forte. Why? Because while Forte will almost certainly cede third down work and goal line carries to Marion Barber, Hillis is just about guaranteed more than the lion’s share of the Browns’ backfield load – especially with Brandon Jackson hurt and Montario Hardesty returning from a season lost to injury.
Plus, Hillis belongs in the same sentence as Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles when it comes to the receiving game – see? Hillis finished fourth among running backs in receptions last year, and that number probably isn’t going to stray too far – not with a passing attack helmed by still-green quarterback Colt McCoy and a receiving corp whose best option is probably Benjamin Watson. Chances are, the Browns are going to have to rely heavily on Hillis.
The point here: Hillis is one of the few backs out there guaranteed a large volume of touches. That’s bankable. That’s valuable.
It’s also worth noting Hillis does have a bit of a leg to stand on when discussing past success. In 2008, in a four-game span with the Denver Broncos, Hillis turned in 305 yards and four touchdowns on just 57 carries. So yes, he did show flashes of what he wound up being last year beforehand.
Oh yeah, he’s also just 25 years old…and he’s jacked. We’re not talking about a guy whose body might be in danger of deteriorating.
So where are you drafting him? Well, you’re not drafting him as your top option at running back unless you can land somebody like Vick and two elite options at wide receiver. Regardless, he should be gone within the first 25 picks, and if he’s not, he’s a great value. This writer would take him before Forte, before DeAngelo Williams…even before Darren McFadden.
Just don’t expect him to repeat last season. If he racks up 1,000 rushing yards, nine total touchdowns and hauls in 50 receptions or so, that’s a draft pick well spent.