Among a growing list of preseason standouts, Green Bay Packers running back Kylin Hill has been making a strong impression over the last two weeks.
Hill amassed 29 rushing yards on seven totes (4.1 YPC) with one touchdown in the second preseason game against the New York Jets. He also caught two passes for 11 yards. The typically low preseason usage was enough for Hill to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the Packers’ RBs vying for that third roster spot.
A seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Hill has made the strongest case for that seat behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. His competitors, Patrick Taylor and Dexter Williams, have failed to impress on a similar scale. Barring an unexpected turn of events or injury, the narrative would dictate that Hill will open the 2021 NFL season as the third back for Green Bay.
Just earning that place would be an accomplishment. In fact, it would mark the biggest impact a seventh-rounder has had for the team since Matt Flynn in 2008. A quality backup who has the ability to slot in for spot starts in the event of an injury is invaluable in the modern NFL. For a sport popularized by its violence, finding players to contribute off the bench is key to winning championships.
It is not hard to theorize Hill’s role on the team being minimal until a backfield injury occurs to one of the top two guys. Dillon, who was the RB3 last year behind Jones and Jamaal Williams, only had 46 regular season carries last year. Hill will see a similar role as less of a change-of-pace player and more of a plug-in when Jones and Dillon both need a breather.
Where Hill’s role as RB3 will differ from Dillon’s the previous year is that Hill’s style of play makes him a like-for-like replacement for Jones if he were to go down with injury. Their physical measurements are similar: Jones is 5’9”, 209 lbs, while Hill is 5’10” and 214 lbs. Jones ran a 4.56 40 at the combine, while Hill ran a 4.55 at his pro day. Jones is known for his explosiveness and versatility, and these are the same attributes that made Hill so effective during his time at Mississippi State.
Jones is unquestionably one of the best running backs in the NFL, but he has only played in a full 16 regular season games once in his career (2019). That year he scored a whopping 16 rushing touchdowns, amassed over 1,500 yards from scrimmage, and caught 49 passes to boot. With an expanded 17-game regular-season schedule slated for 2021, it is fair to wonder whether Jones will be able to hold up physically for the entire slate.
This is where Hill slots in. Despite sitting out a majority of his senior season at Mississippi State last year, he has greatly exceeded expectations in training camp and the preseason so far. In addition to being a dynamic runner, Hill has displayed mature decision-making and is solid in pass protection.
His ability to do the little things on offense will earn him consistent snaps and playing time. This will also contribute to the longevity of Hill’s NFL career. Being able to showcase that ability at this early stage is encouraging for Hill’s development. On a Packers team with championship aspirations and high-end talent at all levels, he will be afforded every opportunity to learn as much as he can during the early days of his career.
Of course, along with that opportunity will come playing time. The current dynamic between the two top running backs casts Jones as the lightning to Dillon’s thunder. Hill’s style of play fits more into the former, making him a comfortable replacement for Jones, who is already the most injury-prone RB on the roster.
The fit makes complete sense from a personnel standpoint. Green Bay is fortunate that Hill is exceeding expectations as a seventh-round pick. He will be able to keep the offense functioning if one of the top two guys go down and will provide quality depth otherwise. The early projections are that Brian Gutekunst and the Packers absolutely nailed this pick, and it will be exciting to see Hill’s career unfold in the green and gold.