With the newest crop of running backs on display at the Scouting Combine on Sunday, the Bengals staff that was on hand was sure to be drooling over some of the prospects. The team will be looking at one or two running backs to add to their roster in the draft this year, it's just a matter of what type of back is their taste and what round they'll be looking to bolster the position. There's a lot of different backs that bring a lot to the table and if the Bengals do their homework, they could score a productive player late in the draft.
As I've noted previously with Baylor's Terrance Ganaway and Utah State's Robert Turbin, there are quite a few lesser-known running back prospects behind the household names that we've all become familiar with in the past few months. If you watched the NFL Network's coverage of the Combine on Sunday, you might have heard Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk speak a little bit about a young player who is slated for the late rounds of the draft.
Faulk has a particular affinity for Ronnie Hillman because he was a productive running back at his alma mater of San Diego State. Some may accuse him of being biased when speaking abut Hillman, which may be true, but I believe that Faulk also has watched extensive tape on him and knows what he's talking about. Hillman entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore after two outstanding seasons at SDSU.
In 2010, Hillman posted 1,532 yards on 262 carries for a 5.8 yard per carry average and 15 touchdowns. He was limited as a receiving option that year, having only nine receptions for 68 yards and one touchdown. He followed that season with a similarly impressive one in 2011, with 311 carries for 1,711 with a 5.5 yards per carry average and 17 touchdowns. He also had 24 catches 270 yards and another touchdown in the receiving game. A true athletic speedster, Hillman posted a 93-yard touchdown run as a freshman and another 99-yard touchdown run in 2011. He proved this label on Sunday by posting a 4.45 40-yard dash time and an impressive 37-inch vertical leap.
The concerns with Hillman primarily revolve around his size. His measurables are similar to University of Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead at 5'10 and 200 pounds, and the question of the ability of being an every down back begins to surface. The other concern stems from the level of competition that Hillman faced while at SDSU--after all, the Mountain West Conference isn't exactly the SEC or Pac-12. His age is also a concern, as he's only had two full seasons of NCAA football.
But, unlike many other backs entering the draft this year, Hillman has proven that that he can carry the ball 250-plus times per year and do so on an effective scale, regardless of his size. The Aztecs didn't resign to use Hillman as an outside runner only, either. As Faulk points out, he was used between the tackles, in zone-blocking schemes, as well as on outside run plays. There appears to be a little more than meets the eye with this young man.
It still seems that Hillman will find his initial niche in the NFL as a complementary back and/or on special teams. If the Bengals opt to get a bigger back in free agency or the early portion of the draft, Hillman could provide value in the later rounds as a speedy playmaker in Jay Gruden's offense.