Brian Hill: Priority Waiver Wire Pickup for Week 11 (2019)
The Falcons came away with just their second win of the season in Week 10 and though their season is basically in the dumps already, it was a win worth bragging about as they knocked off their division rival the first-place Saints in upsetting fashion by a final of 26-9. The win didn’t come without a cost though as their veteran lead back and two-time Pro-Bowler Devonta Freeman suffered a foot sprain that is expected to sideline him for roughly two weeks.
This season, we have been taking a deeper look at some of the highest priority waiver wire pickups of the week and especially when it comes to guys most people outside of deep dynasty leagues don’t really know about. Brian Hill is one of those guys and he took over as the Falcons lead back once Freeman went down last week.
So, let’s take a long look at who Brian Hill is as a player, what the state of the Falcons offense is, and what we can expect from Hill going forward as a top waiver wire pickup heading into Week 11.
Brian Hill is a third-year back who was a fifth-round draft pick of the Falcons back in 2017. He played his college ball at Wyoming where he had some monster performances as a sophomore and junior. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,631 yards on 281 carries (5.8 YPA) and six TDs while adding in a receiving line of 20-132-0. He stepped it up as a junior, especially in his scoring output by logging 22 TDs, but he also picked up more yardage as well carrying the ball 349 times (most in NCAA) for 1,860 yards. He’s the school’s all-time leading rusher by a mile with 4,287 yards. The next best player had 2,963. Hill was top-10 in all of NCAA in rushing both of those tremendous seasons while his 22 rushing TDs ranked fourth in the nation in 2016.
Hill has the size at 6’1″ and 219 lbs to be a featured back and he showed in college that he could handle a very large workload. He also showed excellent ball security being credited with no fumbles according to College Sports Reference. He had the strength of a downhill power-back but didn’t show any above-average abilities in the passing game nor did he show exceptional elusive qualities as a prospect. His best comparison according to his NFL Draft Profile was Latavius Murray.
Though Hill was originally drafted by the Falcons, he also spent time with the Bengals as a practice squad back and potential replacement for Jeremy Hill but lost out on a backup role there to Tra Carson. As a pro, Hill got some run towards the end of last season and had the best game of his career in Week 16 against the Panthers where he carried the ball eight times for 115 yards. Ironically, Hill is set up to face the Panthers again in Week 11 this season with a potential featured role locked in. He flashed potential in the preseason this year as it looked like he was capable of even supplanting Ito Smith as the RB2, but that never quite panned out. Smith, of course, is currently on IR.
State of the Offense
The Falcons are 2-7 after their upset over the Saints in Week 10 and rank in the middle of the pack this season having averaged 21.2 PPG. It has been all about Matt Ryan and the passing game this season as the running game has been virtually non-existent. Last week is only the second time all season that the team as a whole managed to combine for over 100 total rushing yards. They have averaged just 76.8 rushing yards per game according to Team Rankings which is the fourth-lowest total in the league. Only the Dolphins, Jets, and Bengals have been worse there. Not surprisingly, that has been in part due to their league-low 31.27% rushing play percentage.
It hasn’t just been low volume, however, as Devonta Freeman was averaging just 3.5 YPA on the ground this season as the lead back before going down with his injury last week and hadn’t found the end zone as a rusher yet. Hill accounts for one of the Falcons three total rushing TDs this season which ties with the Bengals for third-fewest in the league. A lot of their troubles could be attributed to their offensive line that ranks sixth-worst in the league according to Football Outsiders.
We have somewhat of a thin selection of waiver wire adds this week which helps boost Hill into the position he is in as the priority add of the week. He did get a big vote of confidence from his head coach Dan Quinn this week who stated that he’d be “confident” with Hill in a lead role if Freeman were to miss time according to Rotoworld. There is scant competition behind Hill right now on the depth chart outside of former Eagle Kenjon Barner, who works as more of a special-teamer and scatback type, and rookie fifth-round draft pick Qadree Ollison who has yet to play a snap at RB this season. Ollison flashed some potential of his own this preseason as his 180 rushing yards ranked third-most amongst RBs according to FantasyData’s preseason stats and had some minor dynasty hype heading into the season.
Hill had a stranglehold on RB snaps after Freeman went down last week recording 38 snaps to Barner’s 10 according to Establish the Run’s Adam Levitan. Hill doesn’t seem to possess the same chops in the passing game that we saw from Freeman on a regular basis. Barner has just 23 career receptions as a seventh-year pro and it is yet to be seen if Ollison would offer anything in the passing game, but his college production doesn’t really point to an above-average ability there either.
The receiving game was one of the keys to what success Freeman did have this season as he scored three TDs as a receiver this season and saw at least four targets in seven-of-nine games played, and that includes his shortened performance in Week 10. Hill did grab a 10 yard receiving TD against the Saints last week and had one in the preseason as well, but that’s insufficient evidence to say he’s locked into that role right off the bat.
After generally riding a 60%/40% committee approach with the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the past, Freeman was seeing a 68.2% snap share this season which ranked 12th amongst RBs and a 72.9% opportunity share with ranks 10th according to Player Profiler. If Hill can capture the full workload abandoned by Freeman, including the passing game work, he could offer identical value as Freeman has given us nothing to get excited about in the form of advanced metrics this season. If anything, Hill could be a better fit as a power runner with fresh legs as Freeman is no longer the back he once was.
If Freeman is only out for two weeks, Hill is at the very least a solid one-week rental with a plush matchup against a Panthers defense in Week 11 that ranks top 10 in most fantasy points allowed to RBs according to our matchup calendar. It’s also a team he gashed for over 100 yards last season. Things get extremely tough thereafter against the Bucs and Saints again who rank 31st and 29th in fantasy points allowed to RBs, respectively.
The Falcons season is shot. They have little-to-no chance of competing for anything worthwhile over the back half of this season and therefore have no reason to rush back Freeman who is in the middle of a longterm contract. If we get news that Freeman’s injury is worse than expected or he struggles with setbacks to get right, Hill’s job could have a little more enticing value if his relevance stretches to Week 14 where he would again have a matchup against the Panthers, but then he would get stifled with the 49ers in Week 15, so this isn’t likely to turn into one of those stretch-run hero scenarios. While Hill is arguably the top overall add this week, I wouldn’t break the bank on your FAAB with him, giving somewhere in the 10%-15% range to acquire his services.