The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown: Justice Hill (2019 Fantasy Football)
The Baltimore Ravens were the most run-heavy team in the league since Lamar Jackson took over in Baltimore’s 10th game. Looking at each team’s last seven games, the Ravens led the league with over 300 carries. The next closest team was the Seattle Seahawks with 232 carries. Over one-third of the Ravens’ carries in this time frame belonged to Jackson. Even so, the Ravens still had the second-most carries by running backs over their last seven games (the Seahawks had seven more). Here is a chart showing the RB carries and rushing yards for the Ravens over these seven games.
This works out to an average of 27.6 carries and 149.7 rushing yards per game among running backs. Gus Edwards was the leading rusher in these games last year. He averaged 17.4 carries and 93.4 yards per game.
The running back with the second-most snaps in each of these games (Game 10: Alex Collins, Games 11-12: Ty Montgomery, Games 13-16: Kenneth Dixon) averaged 8.1 carries and 47.7 yards per game. This equates to 129.6 carries and 763.2 yards over a full season. Edwards, Dixon, and Montgomery all averaged over 5.3 YPC with Jackson under center. If we project Justice Hill as the backup, he should be looking at six-to-10 carries per game. Give him five yards per carry and he is looking at 480-800 rushing yards on the season.
Justice Hill showed off his elite athleticism at the combine this year. He placed first among running backs in the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump, and the broad jump. His highlights from Oklahoma State show off his explosive acceleration, quick decision making, and stop-on-a-dime jump cuts. If he uses his small frame intelligently, he will be able to hide behind the line and explode into the open field (a la Alvin Kamara).
Hill is certainly not guaranteed to be the direct backup or even see the field much as a rookie. He walks into a loaded backfield of Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Kenneth Dixon. Ingram just signed a three-year, $15 million dollar deal and is fully expected to walk into lead duties and get as many carries as he can handle. Edwards and Dixon may not be the flashiest names, but both were very successful with Jackson under center last season. There are certainly a lot of carries to go around, but if Hill slips to fourth on the depth chart, he will certainly have no fantasy relevance.
We have seen many great talents from the college game come into a good situation in the pros and fall flat on their face. Until a player takes an NFL field, it is hard to know how they will react mentally and physically to the speed and power of the NFL game. Hill certainly has the acceleration to make plays at the next level, but he will have to learn to follow blockers a little better to find sustained success in the NFL.
Pass Blocking & Pass Catching
Hill was a below average pass blocker in college. This is a little more important for a projected workhorse or early-down running backs, but it still may keep Hill off the field for a few more snaps. Hill has the chance to carve out a role as the primary pass-catching back. Ty Montgomery was the primary pass-catching back with Jackson last season and he is no longer on the team. In the four games that Montgomery played at least 15 snaps, he averaged four targets per game. This equates to 64 targets on the season and would make Hill fantasy relevant with just his receiving.
Justice Hill fits perfectly on paper with what the Ravens should want to do with their offense. There is plenty of opportunity and Hill has the elite athleticism to make an impact in year one. Even without any injuries in front of him, 150 carries is not out of the realm of possibility.
On the flip side of that same coin, he could end up fourth on the depth chart. This scenario doesn’t seem highly likely to me, but even if he is more talented, there is no guarantee the coaches put him on the field. If Hill can take over the pass-catching role out of the backfield, he will have instant fantasy relevance. This will give him a much more dependable floor and about as high of a ceiling as a rookie backup running back could ever have. I like him as a high-upside pick in the 11th or 12th round of drafts.
Steven Roy is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Steven, follow him on Twitter @Rockhead_Roy.