NFL Analysis: How Successful Will Browns Peyton Hillis be in 2011?

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While the Browns have been a perennially poor team – at least in recent memory – the 2010 season had a bright and shining rising star in running back Peyton Hillis. The former Bronco in his second season had a breakout year and put up some numbers that made fantasy football players wish they could have read the future. He had a huge impact in games, and earned a reputation as being a tough and aggressive runner, with the numbers to back it up, but can he do this again in 2011?

In 2010, Hillis was the Browns primary running back – partly by luck due to injuries – and earned his spot as a starter. With 270 carries for 1,177 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per carry, and 11 rushing touchdowns, his numbers tell a story of a player with a high degree of physicality, toughness, and someone who has the ability to make big plays when they really matter. He was not just a standard running back either, picking up 61 receptions for 477 yards, averaging 7.8 per carry, and pulling in two receiving touchdowns.

However, this bruising style of play takes its toll on even the most tough of players. Towards the end of the season, the physicality of the game, and Hillis’ style, of play began to show in terms of his health and performance. He became less effective and was slowed down by the toughness it takes to withstand the load. So what does this mean for him next season?

Well, first off, the Browns have a different game plan in mind than the one they used in the 2010 season. While Hillis will certainly be the primary back, there is talk of using a tandem style combination where he would share the role of running back with second year Brown, Montario Hardesty. There are concerns about Hardesty, who has been plagued by knee injuries since his college days, but sources say that he is on pace to be ready to go this season. The tandem combination would take roughly 100 carries away from Hillis.

This would, obviously, make it impossible for him to have the statistical prowess that he had last season. Will he still make a positive impact? Certainly, but with a tandem style running game, those stats just aren’t attainable. With the questions of durability, especially in the wake of the potential for an 18 game season, it would be reasonable to have concerns about his ability to play the entire season. Unless Hardesty goes down, or doesn’t pan out, I see Hillis having a solid season, but not to the extent to which he performed in 2010.