It’s time to remind you why Peyton Hillis made the cover of Madden in 2011

NEW YORK - APRIL 28: Peyton Hillis #40 of the Cleveland Browns participates in a photo shoot for the cover of EA Sports Madden NFL 12 on April 28, 2011 in Time Square, New York City (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for EA Sports)
NEW YORK - APRIL 28: Peyton Hillis #40 of the Cleveland Browns participates in a photo shoot for the cover of EA Sports Madden NFL 12 on April 28, 2011 in Time Square, New York City (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for EA Sports) /

Peyton Hillis, former Cleveland Browns player and Madden cover athlete trended today.

Today is the day that Madden 2023 announced that John Madden will grace the cover of the game he helped popularize. Once a juggernaut in the gaming sports landscape, the still extremely profitable Madden has fallen into a trend of yearly releases that leave fans wondering why they still bother. However, there was a time when the profits weren’t the only thing that was near all-time highs. There was a time when fans loved the game, and it was so popular, that the developers did a fan-vote competition to see who’d grace the cover. The man who won was former Cleveland Browns running back, Peyton Hillis.

Hillis is a name many either remember fondly or are stupified to see included in the list of Madden cover athletes. So how did he end up on the cover of the game? Well, it started in college when Arkansas was actually competitive for once. They had three studs in the backfield, Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Hillis. Hillis was just as good as those other two but was relegated to fullback due to his size and strength.

Despite being stereotyped by the coaching staff, Hillis went on to have over 2,100 all-purpose yards and 23 total touchdowns for his career; doing most of his work catching passes. In three of his years at the school, he ranked second, third, and first on the team in yards as a receiver.

Despite his obvious talents and his speed (4.5 40-yard dash), Hillis fell to the seventh round of the NFL Draft in 2008, where the Denver Broncos took him. He made the most of his rookie year, playing very well near the end of the season, averaging 104.4 all-purpose yards in the five games he was featured in, and scoring six total touchdowns. A torn hamstring in Week 13 would see him fall short of a projected 1,000 all-purpose yards season for the Broncos and would be the quiet catalyst for his eventual demise.

A change from Mike Shanahan at head coach to Josh Daniels ended Hillis’ run, and by the start of 2010, he was traded to the Browns. The Broncos gave up Hillis and two picks to get Brady Quinn.

Peyton Hillis earned the Madden cover by being a highlight-reel machine in Cleveland

Hillis’s time in Cleveland was short, just two seasons, the second was plagued by injuries and in-fighting. The first, however, was marvelous. Before the concussions piled up, his hamstring started to fail him, and his desire to play the game wained, Hillis was an unstoppable force.

The man had 13 touchdowns in one season for the Browns and was the sole reason the 2010 Cleveland Browns actually had 5 wins. Keeping in mind he played on a team with Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, and Colt McCoy, the fact the Browns were as dangerous as they were fell solely on Hillis.

His style was Mike Alstott but with even more athleticism. Not only was he capable of running over guys, which he did regularly, but he was also able to leap over defenders as well. While he probably wasn’t the first person to jump over a player while carrying the ball, he certainly brought the move into the spotlight, as no one was really doing it prior to Hillis.

Hillis didn’t do it once, he made it part of his arsenal of moves, to great effect. Coupled that with his raw power and his blazing speed, it wasn’t hard to see why he was so effective.

His highlight reel tapes from that time are a thing of beauty, showing exactly what he was capable of in his prime. Yet the thing about Hillis is that while he’s known for his one great year, it wasn’t unexpected. In fact, it was the culmination of his career up until that point.

Hillis was always capable of such production, for six years, across Arkansas and Denver, he showed he was capable of doing more than he was given, showing crazy athleticism for a guy his size, hands as good as most receivers, and an inability to get stopped by most single tacklers. But at the end of the day, no one wanted to give him the chance until Shanahan in late 2008 and then again in Eric Mangini in 2010.

That’s what led him to win the Madden cover, the realization of his potential. So it wasn’t a surprise that he went on to defeat Ray Rice, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, and eventually, Michael Vick to win the Madden Cover athlete tournament in 2010, and earned his way onto the cover. He was someone that had all the excitement and hype in the world.

He was fast, strong, and crazy athletic but his ego, his hamstring, and mounting concussions cut short a promising career. Hillis wasn’t some flash in the pan as he was made out to be in later years, he just had one season where he was healthy, and a coach believed in him.

Hillis is a case study for why coaches are not the final word on who is and isn’t talented.

Next. Browns: Ranking the 5 best running backs since 1999 not named Nick Chubb. dark