Once upon a time Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis set the NFL on fire by rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning him the lofty honor of the Madden 11 cover boy. It seemed the young running back’s career could only go up from then on.
After putting up Pro Bowl caliber numbers in just his third NFL season the sky was the limit for the former seventh round pick. But it was then that the tailspin began for Hillis and his once promising career. The injury bug caught him in his second season with Cleveland, forcing him to the sidelines for six games, as well as a dramatic dip in his numbers to just 587 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns.
It was evident a change of scenery would be necessary for Hillis if he wished to salvage the rest of his career. He moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 to play second fiddle to their superstar running back, Jamaal Charles. Being the change of pace bruiser to Charles’ electrifying speed did not turn out to be the dominant one-two rushing punch both Hillis and Chiefs management were hoping for when he signed with the team. He gained 309 yards on just 3.6 yards per carry while managing only a single touchdown during his one-year stint in Kansas City.
From there Hillis joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp in 2013 but failed to survive the team’s final roster cuts. When he cleared waivers it seemed Hillis would be spending the year out of football until the New York Giants came calling after a whirlwind of mid-season injuries to their backfield left them short on options. Hillis performed admirably, “coming of the couch” to spark the Giants rushing attack and finished his seven game season in New York with 247 and two touchdowns.
In 2014 the Giants restocked their backfield, signing free agent Rashard Jennings from the Oakland Raiders and drafted Boston College Heisman Trophy candidate Andre Williams. Former first round pick David Wilson’s career ending injury was likely the only reason an opening was available for Hillis on the roster.
Despite his incredible fall from grace from the league’s next great running back to a fringe roster player, Hillis embraced his new role with open arms. He carried the ball only 26 times for 115 yards but could be constantly seen on punt and kickoff coverage teams cutting off angles for returners and making the hustle plays and tackles you do not see former superstars killing themselves to make. Hillis would go down with a season ending concussion in Week 10, his final play in a Giant uniform.
It is heartbreaking to see a promising player’s career derailed by injury after injury, especially a true gritty football player like Hillis who, no matter if he was the offensive focal point of a team or a designated special teams player, always gave his all and left his heart on the field every time.