All of the Denver Broncos’ backup running backs move up a notch with Willis McGahee tearing his MCL. For the next 6-8 weeks, the Broncos will likely use a running back by committee approach to fill the void.
Rookie Ronnie Hillman is expected to play a big role in that committee even though he wasn’t even dressing for games at the beginning of the season.
“He’s improved quite a bit,” John Fox said. “We had pretty good per-carry numbers yesterday and ones that we can live with. He was part of that. For any new player to your system, in particular a rookie, he missed some time so you fall behind a little bit but I think he’s caught up by now.”
Hillman had 12 carries for 43 yards, and busted one open for 21 yards against the San Diego Chargers. He had his first NFL touchdown a week earlier against the Carolina Panthers.
“He catches the ball. He’s a threat both run and pass,” Fox said. “For a smaller guy, he’s pretty feisty in protection. That’s been a thing that’s always hard to learn for a rookie is the protection. Running, he’s got excellent vision, excellent burst through the hole, that’s why we drafted him in the third round.”
Out of San Diego State, Hillman was the 4th pick of the third round. In 8 games, he’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry and 23.5 yards per game. He’s also added 10 receptions for 62 yards.
Hillman missed two weeks in training camp with a hamstring injury, and he was inactive for the Broncos’ first two games of the season. That’s when Knowson Moreno was listed ahead of him on the depth chart.
Hillman is the fastest of the Broncos’ backs, but the team didn’t want to use him until his pass protection improved.
“Obviously I’ve played a little bit more football so I’ve seen a lot more,” Hillman said on Monday. “But like I said, there’s a lot more I can learn. I’m happy it’s later on this year, but I’m pretty sure I’m a lot more ready now than I was in September.”
With McGahee out, fantasy owners will be tossing Hillman’s name around along with Moreno and Lance Ball. As long as the group can average about 4 yards per carry, things will remain open for Peyton Manning to do his thing. In the end, that’s all the Broncos need from the running game.