During every NFL Draft, it’s easy to envision where first-round picks will play on a team. When you’re selected high, there’s a good chance you’re going to have an impact right away. But part of the fun of the draft is that you know there are going to be a handful of players who are selected beyond the first few rounds who have a chance to make their mark as well.
That usually comes to fruition when a player with a certain skill set goes to a certain team. It’s in those moments you hear a player’s name get called on the draft stage and go “ooooh, I really like that.”
For many, in 2019, that selection was running back Justice Hill by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round.
Hill was selected before Lamar Jackson had his “GO OFF, KING” season, so the rushing attack in Baltimore has changed its priorities. But Baltimore’s room was crowded even as Hill got there. There was, of course, Jackson, who you knew was going to have a role in the rushing attack, the newly signed veteran Mark Ingram, and the team’s leading rusher from the previous season, Gus Edwards. It was a strong room, but even those who put it together probably didn’t think it would be as dominant on the ground as it was in 2019.
Ingram ended up rushing for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns, and also caught 26 passes for 247 yards and five more touchdowns. Edwards had a similar season to the one he had in 2018, rushing for 711 yards and two touchdowns on 133 attempts. Then throw in Jackson’s 1,206 rushing yards and honestly, there wasn’t much room for Hill to even get in on the action.
In his rookie season, Hill rushed for 255 yards and two touchdowns on 58 attempts with an additional 70 yards receiving on just eight receptions. His most productive game was in the final week of the season when most of the starters were resting for the playoffs.
Hill’s lack of production wasn’t his fault in 2019, but it isn’t exactly going to get easier for him to make a name for himself in 2020. As if the room wasn’t already crowded enough, the Ravens drafted Ohio State back J.K. Dobbins in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Hill rushed for 3,500 yards with 30 rushing touchdowns in his three-year career at Oklahoma State. He’s used to getting a lot of carries and being a focal point of an offense. But in Baltimore it’s different. Hill has to be more a specialized change-of-pace player to stick.
To be honest, Hill’s numbers and role in the offense might not be much better (barring injury) in 2020. Ingram is clearly the starting back and Edwards has proven himself as Ingram’s backup. Hill is more of a speed element to the rushing attack, but unless they are going to shift their priorities in the running game, that kind of role might not come with much more action.
I don’t think Hill is going anywhere, though. His spot on the roster is more of a long-term thing. Though the running back room might have Hill’s name near the bottom of the depth chart again this season, there is reason to believe things might look totally different next year. Ingram is 31 years old, and the team will likely move on from him after this season due to how his contract is structured. Edwards is also in the final year of his deal. That means that next season both of those players could be easily moved, allowing Hill and Dobbins to become the next one-two punch.
Hill looked good when he got his touches in open space last season, but the lack of opportunities didn’t bring much attention to those touches. His stats should be slightly better in 2020, but likely won’t be a big leap from what we saw before.
But in 2021 and beyond, Hill’s role could be very crucial for what the Ravens want to accomplish.