Ronnie Hillman Has Much to Prove to the Denver Broncos in 2013

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystFebruary 21, 2013

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12:  Ronnie Hillman #21 of the Denver Broncos runs with the ball against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Ravens won 38-35 in 2 overtimes.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is underway in Indianapolis and Denver Broncos head coach John Fox took the podium to talk about his team. While the focus of the combine is college prospects that could be drafted in the 2013 NFL draft, Fox revealed what he thought about the players the Broncos selected in the 2012 NFL draft.

Ronnie Hillman was drafted to be the heir apparent for the aging Willis McGahee, but took a backseat to Knowshon Moreno when McGahee went down with an injury in Week 11. The move to start Moreno over Hillman came as a surprise to many, but was relatively successful. Expectations for Hillman were high, and there is still hope that he can be more than just a situational player in 2013.

Although Fox didn’t come out and say it directly, Hillman isn’t going to be handed the starting job in 2013.  “We’re anticipating he’ll be much improved and be able to play more extended time,” Fox said (via If Hillman isn’t much improved and isn’t able to get extended playing time, then the Broncos may have wasted their draft pick.

Despite the fact that McGahee will turn 32 in October, had ball-security issues in 2012, is coming off an injury and will make $3 million in 2013 according to, it’s not Hillman’s job to lose. Despite the fact that Moreno will make $3.3 million and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2012, it’s not Hillman’s job to lose.

“I think he’s capable (of being an every-down running back),” Fox said. “We’ll see.”

Considering the other options in Denver, it’s disappointing that Hillman isn’t seen as the starter in 2013. Fox isn’t one to reveal much about the team’s future plans, but juxtapose his comments about Hillman and Derek Wolfe and there is a sharp contrast.

When talking about Hillman, Fox said that it takes time to grow into the NFL game. Fox mentioned having a full offseason to develop a pro body with the strength and conditioning staff.

There’s nothing untrue or wrong about Fox’s statement—it could be said about any rookie who underperformed. The odd thing is that Hillman is 5’9” and 185 pounds—he’s not going to get much bigger. It is classic coach speak from Fox.

By comparison, Fox mentioned that Wolfe played as much as any rookie in the league on defense and how his position is an important one against the run. Fox went as far to mention how it’s a difficult position to rush the passer from the position Wolfe plays, basically making an excuse for him.

“I thought (Wolfe) had a superb year and is going to be a great young player moving forward.” Fox said

Fox is absolutely right about Wolfe, but it’s interesting the contrast between the two players taken a round apart nearly a year after they were selected. Fox isn’t going to reveal what exactly is holding Hillman back, because it’s probably not because he doesn’t have an NFL body.

The element of Hillman’s game that everyone goes back to is his work as a pass protector, but Hillman wasn’t horrible in that area in 2013. The starting running back job should be Hillman’s to lose, but it’s clear from Fox’s comments that he’s going to have to be much improved to earn the job. We’ll see.