Is Peyton Hillis Wearing Down? Plus Hillis Contract Talk

One of the best things about Peyton Hillis is that he is relatively young at 24 years of age.

Coming into this season he was also very young with consideration to that dreaded “mileage” that NFL running backs build up over the years.  Josh McDaniels took a lot of heat for not using Peyton Hillis and then trading him for Brady Quinn, but he did the Browns a big favor keeping this SUV in the garage.

OK, enough of the car comparisons.

Peyton Hillis is at a career-high workload.  While he did have another good game in the box score yesterday in Buffalo even after the fumbles.  Anyone who has watching all year though can see that Hillis just doesn’t seem to have the same explosiveness in the second half.  It makes me wonder if Peyton Hillis is just worn down at this point his breakout season.

Consider that Hillis went for 72 yards on 12 carries by halftime against the Bills.  He had 9 more carries in the second half for 36 yards.  That seems to be a trend for the season.  Peyton Hillis has gained 54.2% of his rushing yards in the first halves of games.  580 in the first versus 490 in the second halves.  That in and of itself doesn’t seem too astonishing, but give it a closer look.  Since the New England game where Hillis exploded for 184 yards rushing on 29 attempts, the numbers are much more weighted.  In the five games since New England, Hillis has gained 64.1% of his yards (273) in the first as opposed to 35.9% (153) in the second.

Obviously some of this could have to do with scheme by the Browns and Brian Daboll.  Some could have to do with other teams making adjustments at half time.  I know there are no simple answers when there are so many moving parts.  Still, it seems to me that one of those moving parts might be that a 24 year-old with career highs in pretty much every statistical category available is starting to get a bit worn down over a grueling season.  Add in the fact that Hillis seeks contact so frequently and it should be even less of a surprise.

Some more stats for you.   Peyton Hillis’ 238 rushing attempts are eighth most in the league after names like Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, Mendenhall, and Chris Johnson.  The astonishing thing is that Peyton Hillis’ 57 receptions are good enough for 12th in the NFL.  As in all players.  As in that ranking includes wide receivers and tight ends.  The only running back who has caught more balls this year is LeSean McCoy.  And in terms of yards from scrimmage overall, Peyton Hillis is 4th with 1516 after Arian Foster, Jones-Drew and the recently paid Jamaal Charles.

All these things are a double-edged sword.  It is good that the Browns have Peyton Hillis and that he has the ability to carry a large load.  The question is how much load is too much.  I know you are all sick of hearing the Jerome Harrison stuff from me, so I won’t go into it again.  Still, this season better serve as a cautionary tale for the Browns with regard to their promising young back who will presumably get a contract extension and a big raise.  If the Browns plan on making the most of their investment, they better plan on maximizing his effectiveness next year by reducing his utilization if just slightly.  Montario Hardesty could help, but the Browns better have plans beyond him as well.

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While we are talking about contracts, let’s look at what Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles just got.  ProFootballTalk is one of the best sites for seeing through the gaudy numbers that initially get reported to make everyone feel good.  It has been reported so far that Charles has inked a five-year deal for $32.5 million with $13 million guaranteed.  Charles was set to be a restricted free agent after this season and Peyton Hillis has one more year left on his deal that will pay him $555,000 in 2011.  Whatever Jamaal Charles got, let’s assume that Peyton Hillis is worth just as much to the Browns as Charles is to the Chiefs.  That being said, Hillis has less leverage than Charles did who was set to become some kind of free agent following this season depending on the CBA and ongoing negotiations.

So, that is your most recent comp.  If Holmgren and Heckert are tough guys at the table like I would argue they were with Josh Cribbs, then Hillis will get a substantial raise locking him up long-term, but it should be something south of what Jamaal Charles gets due to a decreased amount of leverage with a year remaining on his deal.  That being said, you just never know how this stuff will play out.

  • Gren

    Is a lifetime contract out of the question ?

  • mike

    i dont think he’s wearing down as much as teams are really packing it in to stop him and daring the browns to beat them through the air. their only real credible receiver last game was Ben Watson, and he is hardly the second coming of Antonio Gates at TE. not to mention, delhomme hardly strikes fear into anyone now. Cribbs is obviously banged up and the rest of the WR’s are not a real threat. until they get more real playmakers on offense, things will be tough for hillis.

  • andy

    I saw your 1st/2nd-half comparisons for total yds, but what’s the ypc change–we’ve trailed in most second halves.

  • Lyon

    It’s teams going after him due to lack of passing threat & play calling. We all know Vickers hasn’t been involved as much as he should be. Also, we seem to run up the middle a lot. On the rare occassion we toss outside, he normally gets good yardage. It seems like at times we’re happy to settle for the up the middle runs instead of going for the big gains that he normally gets early in the game.

    I’ll bet he gets less guaranteed money than Charles, but more overall due to incentives.

  • Pale Dragon

    Why would you sign any player to a long-term deal when no one knows what the new CBA may hold?

  • NJ

    I have to imagine he’s worn down. He wasn’t a feature back in college where you’re only playing twelve games. He wasn’t even a number two back for most of his cfb career. Now he’s handled it 300ish times in 13 games?

  • http://serandez.blogspot.com Ezzie

    I love Hillis, but why the rush to give a big contract? Charles got his $$ after more production than this, and I don’t believe KC has that much of a better O than the Browns do. Let Hillis prove himself a bit more, see if he is in fact wearing down, then pay him middle of next year when the Browns are winning.

  • TSR3000

    Teams are simply focusing on stopping him. They know our passing game is pathetic.

  • http://www.brazilianfacefarts.com @cleveBOURNE

    is peyton hillis wearing down??? of course he is, mike bell is not sharing the load. hillis and hardesty next year will be pretty unbelievable. Also, hillis apparently is part human (no sources) so that has to have some effect. GO BROW-DIAN-ALIERS!!!!

  • mgbode

    Marion Barber, Marion Barber, Marion Barber

    my biggest worry when it comes to Hillis. He ran with abandon just a few years ago and just doesn’t have the same gear with all the physical abuse that style requires. of course, AFTER dallas gave him a big contract

    hopefully Hillis avoids a similar fate.

  • Jake

    Heckert/Holmgren need to figure out a backup plan for Hardesty. Even though we would all love to see a combo of Hillis and Hardesty for the next decade, one has taken a ton of physicla abuse and the other doesn’t have any knees. Its very naive to think that these two will stay healthy and effective. So what’s our backup plan? Mike Bell? Draft again? An important position deserves a lot of attention.

  • Yerfdog

    well the first thing i believe the browns should do is sign up hillis for 4 yrs maybe 10 mill guaranteed but i like the incentive based contract idea we then pray hardesty turns out to be worth the high draft pick…. and keep mike bell as a third string or maybe use a seventh rd pick on a speedy back

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I agree that Hillis’ drop off recently is more a function of defenses keying on stopping him than him wearing down.

    If you were a defensive coordinator, and you wanted to make the Browns one-dimensional, which dimension would you be more threatened by: a Peyton Hillis led running game, or a passing attack led by one Jake DelHomme?

    That’s what I thought.

  • Zorro

    I am just amazed that a white guy can be that good at running back.

  • Chris

    Uhhh… no one has to “make” the Browns one dimensional. We walk in to the stadium that way.

  • MattyFos

    How about everytine he puts the ball on the ground he pays Lerner half a million… Yeah?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    Chris, I’m three-dimensional, man. Then again, I don’t go to Browns games.

  • Ryan Frazier

    Correction on your stat that Hillis’ 57 receptions place him as 12th in the NFL. It actually ties him for 26th.

  • Pat18970

    Absurd that the Browns give or throw the ball to Hillis 4-5 plays in a row. Defenses are keying off him.

    What happened to the trick plays we saw against the Saints and Patriots?

  • Joe in Wooster

    Confession; I have never coached in the NFL. However, if I did and I were facing the Browns O, I would say, “hey guys, no need to do anything here but stop the run… they don’t have a QB right now, okay!?”
    Until Colt comes back Hillis will be mildly effective at best.

  • daniel tyler

    no, hes not wearing down. Hes being misused. Dumb playcalling, shotgun formations on short yardage, single back sets without a lead blocker running up the middle, where is Vickers? where is the toss to the outside? It seems like every game we see Vickers left. Hillis is a back that runs best with a lead blocker, although he can be successful without one, it just helps to have Vickers coming at you and then have Hillis right behind.

    What works even better is the toss play to the left, with Joe Thomas and the LG pulling, defenses get scared when they see those guys, with Vickers behind them, and then a 240 pound man running a 4.5 full steam right at them.

    Why the running plays to the right side in goalline situations? the entire right side can’t run block worth a crap.

    Why is Jake Delhomme throwing to him when he is surrounded by 4 defenders? Colt McCoy knew how to set up a pass play to Hillis, as well as Wallace, so if McCoy isn’t going to play they need to put in Wallace, look how much Hillis’s factor in the passing game dropped as soon as Delhomme started, still a bunch of catches without the yards.

    as far as contract, i dont know how huge it should be, but the man deserves a raise, hes making league minimum still, like 400,000. Vickers is making more, and as much talk that Vickers is underappreciated, the man makes more than the guy that is getting the glory.

    Daboli, there is no reason to spread the defense out when no one respects the receivers as legitimate threats, you might as well line up tight and try to block everyone close to the los.

    As far as receiving the ball. Footballoutsiders did a study on backs with 350+ rushes and their performance the next year, they usually dropped. HOWEVEVER, receptions had no noticable impact on performance. Hillis is on pace for 293 rushes, far below 350, so I don’t think he will drop off next year. Mixing it up as a receiver instead of running it every down is prolonging his career, he takes more of a beating up the middle.

  • daniel tyler

    “I have to imagine he’s worn down. He wasn’t a feature back in college where you’re only playing twelve games. He wasn’t even a number two back for most of his cfb career. Now he’s handled it 300ish times in 13 games?”

    I think that would actually help him NOT be worn down. Most backs that come into the league already have mileage on them, having been feature backs for maybe 2 to 3 years in collee, (a few rare cases 4) and then the feature back in high school.

    Hillis still played most downs at Arkansas, its not like hes out of shape, the guy is an athlete.

  • hash

    He’s wearing himself down with his determination to get extra yards. Don’t get my wrong, I love the extra effort, but he needs to make more calculated decisions. Stop trying to hurdle players! Its dangerous and risky.