National Football Authority

Seventh-round NFL picks aren’t supposed to amount to anything. Some do. (Tom Brady, anyone?) Mostly, though, these selections are used on fliers and stab in the dark. They may go on to play multiple NFL seasons, or they may never set foot on the field in the regular season.

Peyton Hillis was among the many players supposed to fall into this afterthought category. Drafted 227th overall in 2008 by the Denver Broncos, the running back was never billed for regular-down contribution, let alone stardom.

And yet, the former Arkansas Razorback showed something as a rookie. With the Broncos backfield decimated by injuries in 2008, he turned in some admirable efforts, including a 129-yard performance against the New York Jets in Week 13.

Though Hillis was eventually relegated to the backburner once the Broncos’ backfield returned to full strength in 2009, he was offered a lifeline, in the form of a trade, by the Cleveland Browns in the 2010 offseason. He responded by having one of the best years among all running backs, tallying 1,177 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. He added another 477 yards and two touchdowns as a pass-catcher.

Only five other players totaled more yards from scrimmage in the 2010 season, and all of them were stars: Darren McFadden, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, and Arian Foster. While Hillis wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl, he had a strong case. And his performance in Cleveland earned him the Madden 2012 cover as part of an inaugural fan-voting campaign that saw him topple marquee names like Charles, Rice, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and many more.

Unfortunately, though, this represented both the peak and end of Hillis’ prime. His production fell apart in the 2011 season. No one knows for sure why, but failed contract talks loomed largely. Hillis was in the final year of his rookie deal, and rumors of failed negotiations between him and the Browns circulated throughout the league. He ended up missing two games under ambiguous circumstances and was never afforded the type of volume he enjoyed in 2010.

Hillis’ career never recovered from this rough patch. He still appeared on the cover of Madden 2012, but that’s now more so known as a random feat. He would only play a total of 29 games over the next three seasons, split between the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs, before leaving the NFL entirely before his age-29 season.

Was Hillis really a flash in the pan, a one-year wonder always destined to fall off? Or did a lack of opportunity in Denver coupled with a lack of confidence from Cleveland do him in? It’s also been reported he was dealing with depression at the time. That has to be part of his story, too.

However you view Hillis’ career, there’s an unfinished element to it. Maybe he wasn’t on the track to stardom, but we’ll never know for sure.

November 13th, 2011

Posted In: NFL

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Perhaps this has been somewhat lost in Robert Griffin III’s precipitous demise in the NFL, but he remains, by and far away, the best quarterback to come out of Baylor.

Other players who have lined up under center for the Bears, of course, deserve honorable mention. There’s Bryce Petty, Don Trull, Seth Russell, Nick Florence, and Charlie Brewer—just to name a few. But nobody comes remotely close to matching the legacy and resume Griffin left behind during his four years headlining the Big 12 power.

For starters, no one else in Baylor history has ever taken home a Heisman Trophy. That honor belongs to Griffin alone. The school records he racked up over his four-year college career are also just absurd. He is first in passing yards and passing touchdowns by a country mile, and his body of work on the ground, as a runner, leaves him sixth in school history in total rushing yards and third in rushing touchdowns.

That body of work speaks for itself. And he has the hardware to prove it. During his final season, in 2011, he won AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, the Davey O’Brien Award and the 2011 Manning award, in addition to claiming the Heisman and finishing as a consensus All-American.

Even Griffin’s NFL career helps make his case. His prime was beyond short; he never fully recovered from his injuries. But he was 2012’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and finished 15th on the NFL’s list of the top 100 players in 2013. That’s hard to do in your first two years at the pro level.

All of which makes his turbulent fall from stardom so hard to wrap our heads around. Griffin went from a bona fide MVP candidate upon entering the league to serving as the Baltimore Ravens backup for the 2019 season. Injuries have a way of derailing careers, but his plunge down the NFL’s individual ladder was steeper than any unexpected fall in recent memory.

Still, in the context of the impact, Griffin had on Baylor, none of this matters. He isn’t just the best quarterback to ever come out of the school. He’s perhaps the best player they’ve ever sent to the NFL, period. Others have had longer careers—kicker Matt Bryant, to start—but Griffin is the only one who entered the NFL on a megastar trajectory.

November 13th, 2011

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The Cleveland Browns receiving corps was easily the worst in the NFL last season.

If you count receptions by players who are deemed wide receivers, the five players for the Browns totaled 129 receptions for 1,438 yards. Or for those of you who need easier numbers for comparison, 14 receptions more than Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White and 10 less yards receiving than Denver Broncos Pro Bowler Brandon Lloyd.

I mean, you know things are bad when two of the Browns top three leading receivers were tight end Ben Watson (763 yards) and running back Peyton Hillis (477 yards). In fact, those two had the same amount of receptions as the five Browns receivers on the season, as Watson had 68 and Hillis had 61 for a total of 129.

You can’t put all the blame on the Browns receivers though. When your team starts the season with Jake Delhomme under center, then has Seneca Wallace take over due to injury and then finally third-round rookie draft pick Colt McCoy takes over when Wallace goes down with an injury, it may be a little tough to develop any type of rhythm with your quarterback.

After the 2010 season ended with the Browns in their usual place, on the couch at home watching the playoffs, many fans thought the team would go out and either draft one of the top two available wide receivers (A.J. Green from Georgia or Julio Jones from Alabama) or throw big money at a veteran free agent like Santonio Holmes or Sidney Rice.

However, fans could not have been more wrong, as the team not only passed on drafting Jones by trading down, but they also left free agency without any major additions to the receiving corps. In fact, outside of second-round draft pick Greg Little from North Carolina, one could say the Browns did not do anything to their group of receivers.

But they could not be more wrong.

See, it was not so long ago that another “small” quarterback was taking over a franchise in a state of flux. In 2006, Drew Brees signed a deal to become the starting quarterback of a team coming off a 3-13 season. While I know Brees was already an accomplished quarterback with the San Diego Chargers and McCoy still has much to prove, my focus here is on the receivers, not who was under center.

Can you venture a guess at how many “big name” receivers Brees has had when he signed with the New Orleans Saints? Well I’m going to make it easy on you, none.

Yeah, Marques Colston is a household name now, but back in 2006 he was a seventh-round draft pick out of Hofstra. The Saints did not think he would make the roster when they drafted him, let alone post four 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his first five years in the NFL. The rest of the team’s leading receivers from the Brees era are listed below:

Lance Moore, 2005 Undrafted Free Agent from Toledo
Robert Meachem, 2007 First-Round Pick from Tennessee
Devery Henderson, 2004 Second-Round from LSU
Joe Horn, 1996 Fifth-Round Pick from Itawamba Community College
David Patten, 1996 Undrafted Free Agent from Western Carolina

The team also had the likes of tight ends Jeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush too. The point is the New Orleans Saints have been dominating the NFL in passing without top wide receivers in the draft or big name veteran free agents and they grew within the system itself.

What the Saints do is trust in the system and their quarterback. They gave Brees the keys to their version of the West Coast offense. Their fans don’t clamor for big name wide receivers, because they trust in their quarterback to put the ball on their compilation of guys who know how to run routes and catch the ball. And I think the Saints have been doing a pretty good job at it.

So when the Browns enter the 2011 season with the likes of Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi (currently injured), Josh Cribbs, Little, Carlton Mitchell and Jordan Norwood as McCoy’s wide receivers, don’t panic and start screaming for Terrell Owens. The big change to the receiving corps won’t be the addition of any “big name” players, it will be the installation of a new offense which will allow them to do what they are supposed to do best—catch the ball.

Under the direction of Pat Shurmur and Mike Holmgren’s West Coast offense, you will soon see it does not matter how big of a name the receiver has. What matters is that the guys can run the routes effectively and catch the passes thrown to them. It has worked with the combination of head coach Sean Peyton and Brees in New Orleans since 2006 when they came together, and it will work for Shurmur and McCoy in Cleveland.

November 8th, 2011

Posted In: NFL