Today’s reports out of Berea have clinched it for me. Peyton Hillis is on my radar as the “under-the-radar” player for the Browns this year on offense. During practice, Peyton Hillis did damage to the Browns’ defensive unit on a 30-yard play and a 40-yard play. I didn’t see them, but they were reportedly short passes that Hillis converted into giant amounts of YAC (yards after the catch.) When I brought his name up this morning, the fine folks at Denver’s Mile High Report concurred with my hopes by saying, “I always thought Denver could have used him as an H-Back, in the Chris Cooley mold…” Obviously aiming for Chris Cooley type production might be aiming a bit high, but if Hillis can even be “in the mold” of Chris Cooley, he will be a welcome addition to the Cleveland Browns.
Hillis doesn’t have much to show for the 2009-10 season as he got lost on the bench when Mike Shanahan lost his job in Denver and Josh McDaniels took over. For the season, Hillis only had 54 yards rushing and 19 yards receiving. That level of production is a clear indicator of why the Broncos were willing to include Hillis in the deal for Brady Quinn.
The key to Hillis and the Browns is what he did in 2008-09 when injuries got his name called in his rookie year. In week nine, Hillis exploded for 7 catches and 116 yards against the Dolphins. His most impressive running game was against Eric Mangini’s Jets when he ran 22 times for 129 yards. Also, in a game against Atlanta, Hillis only ran the ball for 44 yards, but managed to punch in two touchdowns.
If the Browns can find ways to use Hillis that are more similar to the way Shanahan used him in the second half of his rookie year, he could be the H back the Browns need. He could look like a tight end, full back and running back all in the same game if he wanted. He is a sure-handed, powerful, and deceptively quick player. The Browns can always use more players like that.
He also fits the mold as to what Browns fans love the most. He is an underdog because he was drafted 20th in the 7th round of the draft in 2008. He is versatile. It is no secret that one of the reasons Browns fans love Josh Cribbs is his versatility. Hillis loves to hit defensive backs trying to tackle him. That is why Browns fans love Lawrence Vickers. Combine this with the fact that he was traded as a part of the Brady Quinn deal, and his story has all the makings of a Browns fan fairytale.
Check out this highlight reel from his career in Denver and imagine him doing this against the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals.