Atlanta Falcons training camp kicks off in a couple weeks. I can smell it. It’s an alluring scent, a complex combination of sweat, broken dreams, and pain. It simultaneously makes your nose burn and your heart flutter. So what lies ahead for this team? If the stars properly align and Kyle Shanahan stays at least 300 yards from Flowery Branch, a Lombardi trophy. The Falcons have lots of terrific players who can help them get to the promised land, but I want to talk to you about one player that’s flying under the radar in mid-July: Brian Hill.
The Falcons drafted Hill in the fifth round of April’s draft. Falling that far in the draft made him salty, because he expected to go much higher. (Fifteen other running backs were selected ahead of him.) It was understandably hard to stomach for Hill, whose 1,860 rushing yards ranked third in the NCAA last season. In fact, Hill was grumpily playing NBA 2K17 when Falcons head coach Dan Quinn called him on his cell phone. Fast forward two months and Hill has done nothing but impress the coaching staff and his new teammates.
You’re probably familiar with Hill’s collegiate body of work by now. He racked up nearly 4,300 rushing yards over 38 games (28 starts), averaging 5.5 yards a carry and rushing for 35 touchdowns. He averaged over 130 rushing yards a game during his sophomore and junior campaigns. If someone put up those numbers at an SEC school, they’d
likely fizzle in the NFL after getting drafted by a desperate team in the first round get a lot more respect. Hill played at Wyoming, facing off against perennial powerhouses CSU-Fresno and Utah State each season. (I’m being facetious here; the Mountain West isn’t completely devoid of NFL talent.)
The two-headed elephant in the room is hard to ignore. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman comprise arguably the league’s best running back duo. Terron Ward, the third string running back before Hill was drafted, had only 31 carries over five games in 2016. There’s no doubt Hill can carve out a role on special teams, but will he actually factor into Steve Sarkisian’s plans on offense? The honest answer: maybe.
Sarkisian is likely to emphasize the ground game more than his predecessor. This by itself could create additional opportunities for Hill. Then there’s Coleman’s durability. If you recall, Coleman missed three games last season and four games in 2015. If he can’t hold up physically over a sixteen game regular season, Hill will gladly step in.
So assuming Hill does get 50-60 carries during the regular season, what can he do with them? Assuming his wrist is fully healed, I’m excited to see what he can do with the ball. Hill is a big boy at 6’1, 220 pounds. Scouts rave about his effort and violent running style. He’s also careful with the football. (He had 349 carries in 2016, fumbling once.) Freeman and Coleman are undisputedly the present, but if one or both eventually leave the Falcons via free agency, Hill could be a big part of the future.
So as you get hyped for training camp, the preseason, the regular season, and Dave’s third straight week of moderate sobriety, don’t forget about Hill. Freeman and Coleman may get the lion’s share of the snaps at running back, but Hill will could have an impact, both on offense and on special teams.