When you’re selected in the seventh round of the NFL Draft, expectations are fairly low. You’re pretty much already on the roster bubble and even if you do make the team, you’re likely going to start your career buried on the depth chart unless you do something stellar in training camp and the preseason.
The Green Bay Packers of course have had past success in the seventh round, most notably with Donald Driver who was the 213th pick in the 1999 draft. He went on to set the team record for career receptions and became one of the most beloved players in franchise history.
Fast forward to 22 years later: running back Kylin Hill is looking to become Green Bay’s next diamond in the rough.
Expecting Hill to have a career like Driver’s is foolish when he has only played in two preseason games, but his performance in those contests has set him on the path to have a far greater impact as a rookie than most other seventh round picks.
He’s no serious threat to unseat Aaron Jones or AJ Dillon as the primary running backs, but at that position, Hill should see the field more often than a third-string player at other positions.
That’s primarily due to the offense head coach Matt LaFleur runs. If (and this is probably a near certainty) he is trying to run his offense in a similar manner that his mentor Kyle Shanahan does in San Francisco, the Packers are going to need three solid players at running back. Last year, the 49ers had Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and Jerick McKinnon, and and for this season the Packers have Jones, Dillon, and now Hill.
It might be tempting to armchair GM and try to figure out which of those three roles Hill could most fit into but keep in mind this offense is built around the skill sets of the players on the roster versus trying to fit players into the scheme. That’s what makes it such a popular and effective offense to begin with.
If one were to guess where Hill could best be utilized by LaFleur through two exhibition games, you need only to look at the touchdown he scored in each game. Both came on plays that showed off Hill’s burst and they show why he is becoming such an intriguing option behind Jones and Dillon.
In the preseason opener against the Houston Texans, Hill made a strong first impression on the home crowd with a nice catch and run on a screen pass from Jordan Love:
Hill lined up to Love’s right in the shotgun and slipped between the B gap for the quarterback to hit him on the screen. Hill caught the ball right around the line of scrimmage and after a great block by fellow rookie Josh Myers, the running back only had to throw one partial stiff arm before leaping into the end zone. The block by Myers was critical, but Hill also showed his acceleration by quickly getting down the field and also great vision following his blocks for the touchdown.
Not to be outdone, Hill gave an encore performance on Saturday against the New York Jets. Once again lined up in the shotgun, this time to the left of Kurt Benkert, Hill crossed in front of Benkert to take the handoff before throwing a stiff arm on Jets defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers before turning the corner. Once he reached the edge, Hill showed off that acceleration again before a nicely timed shoulder lowering allowed him to plow into the end zone.
Those two plays show why it’s going to be extremely difficult to pry away the third running back spot from Hill. Dexter Williams is the primary challenger for that job and has shown some ability as a returner this preseason after the 2019 sixth round pick was active for only three games last year, but he has yet to have splash plays like Hill’s.
With his roster spot all but locked up, what does the regular season hold for Hill? It’s easy to see where LaFleur could utilize the rookie. He could have use as the jet sweep/motion guy like Tyler Ervin before him even if many have envisioned Amari Rodgers in this role instead, but Hill making plays out of the backfield could become at least a semi-regular sight. He also was an effective pass-catcher in limited college action last year, which could get him on the field on some third down plays.
Of course, Hill has shown he’s capable of being much more than a gadget player. Hill’s continued emergence could give the Packers a legitimate three-headed monster of a running game. Could that possibly mean the wishbone might be in Green Bay’s future?
That formation is unlikely in today’s NFL, but imagine Jones, Dillon, and Hill in the same backfield and consider how each player can attack the defense. How do you account for all three? Split Davante Adams and Robert Tonyan out wide and that 31 personnel grouping suddenly seems like more than just mad science.
Having strong depth at the running back position opens up a realm of possibilities for the offense and diversifies LaFleur’s playbook. Hill coming on strong in the preseason has been a surprise, but it is a welcome one. On Draft weekend, many thought he’d go sooner, with some thinking as soon as the fifth. At pick #256 overall, Green Bay very well may have gotten a steal.
Seventh-round draft picks are typically gambles that are low in risk, but can offer high reward. Finding a legitimate third running back that late would be a tremendous payoff for the Packers and if preseason is any indication, there’s a decent possibility they have done just that.
As they prepare to climb the mountain that is the path to Super Bowl LVI, the Packers’ path may have gotten just a little bit easier thanks to a Hill.