Unless you are a regular NFL fan — as in you watch football on a weekly basis, you probably didn’t know of Peyton Hillis before he became the Madden 12 Cover Athlete. Hillis won the fan vote to grace the newest edition of Madden by defeating stars such as Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. He is the starting running back for the Cleveland Browns and is one of the rising stars in the NFL. However, his path to becoming a star running back for the Browns has been a rather unique one.
Peyton Hillis was born on January 21, 1986 in Conway, Arkansas. After a standout high school football player, Hillis received many collegiate offers but chose to stay close to home down south. He was recruited at the University of Arkansas as a fullback and went on to play his college ball there.
His career at the University of Arkansas was overshadowed by the two stellar running backs on the team, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Hillis was an excellent blocker and contributed to the success that McFadden and Jones had at Arkansas. Darren McFadden (4th) and Felix Jones (22nd) would go on to be picked in the first round of the 2008 draft — both before Titans RB Chris Johnson (24).
Meanwhile, Hillis would be drafted by the Broncos in the 7th round and had to fight to make the team. By opening weekend in 2008, Hillis was the Broncos starting fullback. Injuries allowed Hillis to be the emergency starter at the RB position. He managed 343 rushing yards as a rookie, leading the Broncos in that department.
Hillis seemed poised to take on a bigger role with the Broncos in 2009 but the arrival of new head coach Josh McDaniels set him back as the team drafted Knowshon Moreno with their first round pick. Hillis was virtually non-existent in the Broncos offense that year. Many fans in Denver felt as if he had earned the right to compete for the starting RB role but Hillis was refused any significant playing time.
That offseason, McDaniels shipped him and a 6th round draft pick to Cleveland for former 1st rounder QB Brady Quinn. The Broncos looked like geniuses with the trade at the time. The brought in a guy like Brady Quinn with so much talent and only gave up a fullback/backup halfback and a 6th rounder to get him.
What a difference a year makes — McDaniels was fired as Broncos’ head coach and Hillis is a star with Cleveland. Nobody — not even the Browns — saw this coming.
The 2010 season (last year) was truly a breakout year for Hillis. As injuries began to pile up at the RB position, the former Broncos/Razorbacks super backup capitalized on an opportunity to be the feature back. He had a sensational year, gaining the trust and and respect of the Cleveland contingent. Fans were pleasantly surprised by his north-south physical running style. He rushed for 1, 177 yards and 11 touchdowns in the 2010 season. One of the season’s most memorable moments was a November visit to Cleveland from the New England Patriots. Against one of the most dangerous teams in the league, Peyton Hillis put the Browns on his back as he rushed for a career high 184 yards and 2 TDs en route to a 34-14 thrashing of Bill Belichick’s Patriots. Hillis’ storybook year culminated with his selection as the Madden 12 Cover Athlete.
Peyton Hillis’ rise to NFL stardom was rather unique as the concept of a white running back taking the NFL by storm was a radical change. I do believe that Hillis has been held back by reverse racism — if that’s what you call it. We as fans of the NFL are used to seeing the running back position played by a black man. This used to be the same with the quarterback position, though there are many successful black quarterbacks in the game today. However, we may be seeing more and more white players choosing to play the RB position after witnessing the success of Peyton Hillis and former Stanford Cardinal and current Minnesota Viking Toby Gerhart.
However, color has no bearing on talent what so ever. Color is just color and talent is talent. I personally believe that Hillis is a top 10 back in this league — regardless of if he’s black, blue, or yellow. His rough and bruising style of running the ball has definitely been welcomed by the Cleveland Browns. Browns fans are used to being cellar dwellers in their division, but things are looking up for them. Colt McCoy, Peyton Hillis, Joe Haden, and Josh Cribbs are the new faces of a Cleveland team that is looking to become more competitive in the AFC.
The 2011 Cleveland Browns are poised to make noise in the AFC North this reason, and the bruising play of their standout running back will be a big reason why. Best of luck to Peyton Hillis this year as he aims to follow up on his breakout year.
By the way, Madden 12 will be available in stores August 30, 2011.