The surprise at No. 67 after the Broncos traded up 20 slots with the Cleveland Browns was which running back the Broncos selected, not that they picked a running back.
Lamar Miller was surprisingly still on the draft board, as was Utah State’s Robert Turbin, with whom the Broncos visited in recent weeks. But the pick was 5-foot-9, 200-pound Ronnie Hillman, a prolific running back who racked up 3,243 rushing yards the last two seasons for San Diego State and clocked a 4.45 40-yard dash time, but fell because of concerns that his frame wouldn’t stand up to the pounding.
While Hillman might not be able to handle an extensive amount of work between the tackles, his pass-catching ability, acceleration and moves in space call to mind a bigger version of Warrick Dunn, the former Tampa Bay and Atlanta running back who racked up 15,333 yards from scrimmage over 12 NFL seasons. Turbin isn’t as shifty as Dunn, but can make the first tackler miss effectively.
Hillman was taken aback when the Broncos called him.
“I was very surprised,” said Hillman, who acknowledged he had “not that much” contact with the Broncos prior to the draft.
Hillman worked on increasing his weight from 189 to 200 pounds in time for the Scouting Combine in February. Fears that he would lose his speed proved unfounded; his 4.45-second 40-yard dash time was third-best among all running backs at the Combine.
“I gained 11 pounds. It was just different eating habits — eating a lot of calories and treating my body right,” Hillman said at the Combine.
That included cutting out candy.
“(Ryan Lindley, former San Diego State teammate) said no more skittles for dinner, huh? I was like, I haven’t even had any candy in I donít know how long,” Hillman said at the Combine.
“It will be nice when I am able to relax and have a Skittle or something.”
Don’t expect that relaxation to come soon; the Broncos convene for rookie minicamp on May 11, and that’s where Hillman must start making the impression that he can be an effective change-of-pace back behind Willis McGahee.
Hillman’s pick and skill set would seem to indicate that 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno is on notice, less than six months removed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Given the Broncos’ hopes for undrafted 2011 pickup Mario Fannin — who also returns from a torn ACL — it’s possible the Broncos’ running back corps behind McGahee could look vastly different — not just in names, but in skill set.