Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 6/16/12
Ronnie Hillman had a very productive final two seasons of his college career at San Diego State, totaling 3,243 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground. leading the Denver Broncos to draft him in the third round of this past April's draft as they look to add skill position talent around newly signed quarterback Peyton Manning.

Hillman does not have terrific size (5'9", 200 lbs.) and was not very productive as a pass receiver in college (33 receptions in 2010 and 2011 combined), so he will not immediately step in as an every down back at the NFL level, and the Broncos will not ask him to with Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball also in the mix for playing time.

There have been some reports the Broncos expect Hillman to become an immediate contributor as a rookie, but he reportedly was behind the other three backs in the pecking order during the team's recent minicamp. So, what can fantasy football owners expect from Hillman in 2012?

How Hillman Fits Into The Broncos Running Back Group

Willis McGahee had an excellent season in 2011, with 1,199 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. But he will also turn 31 during the 2012 season, has a fairly significant injury history (particularly a history of knee issues), and it's fair to wonder how well he fits in with a new Manning-directed offense given he is not an especially accomplished pass catcher. Still. McGahee should get first crack at significant touches in the Broncos' running back rotation.

Former first round pick Knowshon Moreno has been a big disappointment to this point in his career, and now his status for the start of the season is in doubt due to ACL tear he suffered in his right knee. Moreno may be battling for a roster spot during training camp and the preseason if he is healthy, and he could start the season on the PUP list or even be traded prior to the season. The other backs that could be in the mix for Denver include Lance Ball and Mario Fannin, but Fannin is coming off an ACL tear of his own and Ball has yet to top 100 carries in a season.

Hillman looks likely to get an opportunity to earn a role as a change of pace back right off the bat, and if he can show pass-catching ability and improve his pass blocking he could see the field frequently on third down. It's well known that Manning highly values running backs that can pass block as well as know their assignment on each play, for obvious reasons, so if Hillman gets the opportunity to earn the future Hall of Famer's trust during the preseason that will bode well for an increased role as well.

Fantasy Analysis And Projection

Hillman is a player fantasy owners will want to keep an eye on during the preseason given all the uncertainty surrounding him in the Broncos' backfield mix, but he is still unlikely to be worth any more than a late-round draft day flier or a $1 or $2 bid at auction in deep single season leagues. His value is clearly greater in keeper leagues, with a slight potential boost in PPR formats based on the potential his role evolves as a pass catcher in a way it didn't in college.

I project Hillman to see 5-10 touches per game as a rookie, which obviously limits his fantasy potential for 2012 even if he is productive when he gets the opportunity. But that could change if the Broncos quickly assess that McGahee is not a good fit for their offense and Moreno is either not healthy enough to play or on another team. That would leave Hillman as sort of the last man standing, and having a significant role in what should be a productive Denver offense (as long as Manning stays on the field) is good news for his fantasy value at that point.


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