After a 9-7 record in 2014, the Houston Texans look to improve even further this coming season. As we get closer to the start of the 2015 NFL year, we want to continue to look over the roster as much as possible with our ‘Player Projection’ series.
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Today we continue our series by looking at one of the guys who will have to fight to earn his spot on the 53-man roster, running back Kenny Hilliard. The Texans selected Hilliard in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL draft and I believe he has a shot of making the team.
ESPN’s Tania Ganguli also believes Hilliard is “in the mix” at running back, calling him a first and second down player.
A Look Back
Hilliard never carried the ball more than 90 times in one season during his four years at LSU. He did however finish his career with over 1,500 yards, with a 5.2 average per rush and 27 rushing touchdowns.
Before digging too much into Hilliard’s career on my own, I decided to reach out to Josh Criswell (@joshccriswell ) from Death Valley Voice and get his take on the player the Texans took with their 235th pick.
"TT-How would you compare Kenny Hilliard to his teammate at both LSU and now in Houston, Alfred Blue?JC-Two completely different backs. Hilliard excels as a power back in short-yardage situations, and can even serve as a fullback in a pinch. Blue, on the other hand, is much slimmer and uses his speed and vision to pick up yards. He is also better suited for special teams.TT-What is the best quality he brings to a team?JC-He is the type of back that is not afraid to put his head down and initiate contact. Countless times at LSU it seemed like he would turn a play going nowhere into a 3-4 yard gain. He keeps his legs moving through contact, something that allowed him to break off big runs occasionally in college.TT-What area(s) does he need the most work on to make it in the NFL?The biggest thing he needs to do is find an area of his game to excel in. Right now, he is a good player in all aspects, but he has not developed a part of his game that he can consistently rely on to thrive against NFL competition. He probably needs to improve his speed more than anything, though.TT-At 226 pounds is it safe to assume Hilliard is a bruising type of back?JC-I would say so. He is not exactly the type of runner who is going punish defenders consistently, like a Jerome Bettis, but being a bruising back definitely caters to his skill set. He lost some weight before his senior year to help improve his speed, but you can tell by the way he runs that he still carries the mindset of a bigger back.TT-Will his style fit the zone running scheme Houston operates?JC-While it is not the best fit, I believe he fits into the scheme a lot better under Bill O’Brien than he would have under Gary Kubiak. Kubiak’s scheme seemed to rely heavily on having a running back that uses his speed and quickness to burst through the line when he finds a seam, not exactly Hilliard’s forte. If his running vision improves, it will help him to succeed in the offense.TT-Do you believe he will make it to the 53-man roster, or is the practice squad a more realistic expectation?JC-The fact that he is yet to receive his first NFL carry is worrisome for his outlook, especially when compared to backups like Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes that saw action in Arian Foster‘s absence last season. With a solid training camp and preseason, though, he has a good chance to make the roster. Even if he does not start the season on the 53-man roster, I see him joining the team because he is a reliable back for short-yardage situations and passing downs when you need someone who can block or catch out of the backfield.TT-If he makes the team in 2015, what can the team expect to get from him?JC-He will be a situational back that will probably not see a significant amount of playing time, barring an injury to those ahead of him on the depth chart. At best, he becomes a regular fixture in goal line packages. At worst, he gets buried on the depth chart.TT-I know he didn’t get a ton of carries since he was part of a rotation, but I had him as a dark horse draft target with some upside, mostly because of his 5.0 yard per carry average and 27 career touchdowns. Am I crazy, or does he have a chance to make it in the NFL whether it be with Houston or somewhere else?JC-There is definitely a spot for him somewhere in the NFL, and I believe that spot could be in Houston. As a lifelong Texans fan, I hate to imagine the day that Arian Foster is no longer the dominant back that we have known him to be, but it is coming eventually. I could easily see him becoming a jack-of-all-trades back to go along with Blue as the team transitions towards the future.Just a side note….Even though he is far from being a household name, Hilliard could end up being one of the stars of Hard Knocks if he gets the camera time. He has an easygoing yet engaging personality and has been known to be an extremely hard worker. I am looking forward to him breaking out his trademark ‘no ceilings’ touchdown celebration on HBO if he finds the endzone this preseason."
What To Expect In 2015
With backs like Arian Foster, Alfred Blue and Chris Polk on the roster all having some injury history, whether it be in the pro’s like Foster or in college like Blue and Polk, there is always a good reason to keep someone young like Hilliard on the team, whether that be on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.
I agree with what Josh said that even if Hilliard makes the team, he will be a situational guy that does not see a ton of action. However, with him being a solid player who excels in short yardage situations, I think there is a shot he gets on the active roster for a few games (most likely due to injury somewhere) in 2015 and sticks with the team for a few years.
Toro Times Bold Prediction
35 carries, 125 yards, 1 touchdown