This one hurts. Peyton Hillis was an incredibly athletic collegiate fullback/running back that was never given a chance to excel as a position player. A seventh-round pick, he watched his collegiate teammates Darren McFadden and Felix Jones go in the first round of the very same NFL Draft. Hillis ended up with the Denver Broncos where he had to compete to win the spot of the starting fullback. He led the team in rushing his rookie year but that was the year the Broncos had five backs hit 200 yards rushing for the season, so Hillis’ 343 yards isn’t something to brag about.
Around the same time, The Browns had grown tired of Brady Quinn and sought a trade partner. The Broncos, still hoping to find the heir apparent to John Elway, took a gamble on Quinn. Hillis was upset that he wasn’t being utilized more and made it known to Broncos brass and when the deal with the Browns came up, the Broncos sent Hillis, a sixth-round pick, and what would be a fifth-round pick over to Cleveland for Quinn.
Fans were happy enough. Quinn was a disappointment, the Browns needed depth at their backs with only Lawerence Vickers, the team fullback, being worth anything. He started off slow, only managing 17 carries for 76 yards over his first two games. Week three he exploded, however, and took the league by storm.
Wearing Tampa Bay great Mike Alstott’s No. 40, Hillis became one of the most popular players that season. He revolutionized the leap-over-defenders that everyone does now, plowed through arm tackles, and looked like the Madden player every kid tried to look and play like. Not so surprisingly enough, Hillis won a fan vote to become the Madden cover athlete for Madden 2012.
The Browns had found their next big star, and the league had found a marketable face. After all, what fans did love watching his tank-like play style.
Then the 2011 campaign started and Hillis went full diva. Instead of putting in the same work ethic that he had the year before, he let the noise of the season get to him. By his own admission, he regrets how he handled that year which saw allegedly threaten to retire to join the CIA (something he claims was made up to harm his negotiating power), use “strep throat” as a reason why he couldn’t play in several games and had issues with his hamstring.
By the end of the year, fans had enough of his antics and the team seemed to agree, letting Hillis leave the team without even making him an offer.