Fantasy mini-camp: Is there an argument for Ronnie Hillman as the Broncos RB1?
Division: AFC West
Team: Denver Broncos
Situation: No. 1 running back
Player to watch: Ronnie Hillman
Let me immediately start with a clarification: the player to watch regarding the Broncos' ground game, especially now that Denver released Willis McGahee is rookie Montee Ball. Based on his power style and being the likely recipient of many goal line carries in a powerful offense, anything less than a top-20 fantasy RB projection for the Broncos' 2013 second-round selection by August would surprise.
Of course, should the team's early third round pick from the 2012 draft rebound from a disappointing first campaign, some will say its not inconceivable that Ronnie Hillman spoils the "Hooray for Ball" party.
Wait, really? The same Ronnie Hillman whose slight build and inexperience provided a boys-versus-men look when rushing inside against NFL defenders? The same Ronnie Hillman who after McGahee's knee injury opened up playing time ended losing snaps to Knowshon Moreno?
Yes, that Ronnie Hillman, who had 85 carries for 330 yards with one touchdown plus 10 receptions for 62 yards.. The case goes something like this: The 5-foot-9 back, who was listed at 185 pounds last season, reportedly showed up for spring workouts stronger with an extra 15 pounds. During OTA's he is receiving a healthy dose of work with the first-team offense, sharing time with Ball. Regardless of Ball's presence, Hillman is the top pass catcher among the running back options and should see decent number of snaps even in that role - assuming talks of improved pass blocking are sincere. Those catches mean extra value in PPR leagues.
Also, hey, it's not like we haven't seen rookies stub their toes during their first taste with the pro game. Everyone can assume Ball receives the ball more than the others, but maybe such expectations should simmer until he actually participates in an actual training camp and preseason game. If that happens, Hillman has the talent to play increased snaps - he produced 103 yards on touches against the Ravens in last year's playoff loss. Also, it may not seem like it now, but he was a significant sleeper last season in the fantasy community, so somebody liked him once upon a time.
Again, that's the argument. Should you believe it? Eh, I'd lean heavily toward the Ball side. However, as the hype builds over the summer, it's conceivable he's a second-round pick in the fantasy world as well. At that point, his value shrinks while Hillman's likely hovers in the RB4 range. In that sense, it's fair to suggest Hillman, who remains the youngest player on the roster, is back on the sleeper pile since he's an injury or slump away from being the main RB option for a starry attack. Yeah, that's the more likely case to make, but one with some intrigue.
More AFC West and other fantasy mini-camp posts