Brian Hill crested 1,600 yards rushing in both his sophomore and junior seasons at Wyoming. He declared for the 2017 NFL draft and was selected in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons.
Then he disappeared.
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Hill was released by the Falcons that October and spent time on their practice squad until the Bengals signed him that November. He gained 11 yards on 37 carries before being released.
Hill landed back with Atlanta in 2018 but continued to languish in obscurity until breaking out for 115 yards on eight carries in Week 16. Had the Falcons re-signed Tevin Coleman, we might never have heard from him again. But they didn’t. And now Hill suddenly finds himself on the brink of real role in Atlanta.
Through most of the summer, Ito Smith looked like the best handcuff in fantasy. He was a top workhorse back in college and appeared to have complete control of the No. 2 position in a high-powered offense. Then the Hall of Fame game happened, and Smith combined with Qadree Ollison and Kenjon Barber for nine yards on 11 carries. Meanwhile, Hill broke out with 11 carries for 57 yards. He also caught a pass for the Falcons’ lone TD.
This is a very small thing on its own. No one is going to sell Smith and buy Hill on a handful of carries in a pre-preseason game. But it did shine the spotlight on Hill’s excellent camp. It turns out that fleeting performance was just an extension of what Hill’s been doing all summer.
The Falcons official site notes the newfound depth at the RB position but selected Hill as one of the breakout stars in camp.
Hill not only caught a touchdown pass from Matt Schaub during the Red-White scrimmage, he’s been showing that he can catch and run after the catch throughout this camp. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Hill has worked hard at improving his pass catching and it’s certainly showing.
The Atlanta Constitution took this a step forward, praising the development of his physique and his receiving skills before noting that HC Dan Quinn believes Devonta Freeman and Hill are their best finishers.
“His finishing mindset. Even if the play could get jammed up (within) two yards or four yards. The finish continues 20, 30, 40 yards down the field. Those are the things that kind of speak to him as a finisher.”
Does Hill have the talent to steal the backup job?
Hill was one of eight RBs from the stacked 2017 class to score 65 or better in the RB Prospect Lab. To put that in context, exactly zero RB prospects scored 65 or better in the 2019 class. His comps from the Box Score Scout are impressive for a late-round pick.
Jordan Howard is the jewel of the group with a career average above 200 points per season, but Alex Collins provides an example of what 2019 drafters might get from Hill. Collins didn’t last as a starter, but he played well enough in 2017 to help owners win their title.
Hill’s rushing market share numbers easily lead the group. Going by his production metrics, Hill had a chance at stardom.
It won’t be easy to wrest control of this job from Smith, and he’s not the only one trying. Cort Smith profiled Ollison as the Falcons’ Deep Sleeper to Watch, noting his four-down profile and the potential for goal-line work. But I love Hill for many of the same reasons I loved James Conner last season. Conner was able to hold off intriguing rookie Jaylen Samuels and took advantage of an explosive offense1 to emerge as one of the NFL’s better backs.
Even without an injury or holdout, there may be more opportunity in Atlanta than it first appears. After leading the position in fantasy points in 2015, Devonta Freeman hasn’t been the same since.
Freeman’s PPG numbers have continued to fall, accelerated by a swift decline in receiving value. His receptions were cut in half from 73 in 2015 to 36 in 2017. Then injuries derailed his 2018 season. He now qualifies as one of the RB Land Mines to Avoid.
Freeman has the starting position locked up, but the backup role is one for fantasy owners to target. If training camp is any indication, Brian Hill may be that guy.
Image Credit: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Brian Hill.
- By contrast to the Steelers, Atlanta’s RB group finished in the bottom 10 of both rushing EP and receiving EP. That helps to explain why Tevin Coleman is gone and Smith isn’t a lock as the No. 2. The Falcons offense is too prolific overall for the RB group to continue to flounder. (back)