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  • Writer's pictureIan Sage


Updated: Mar 4, 2021

You’re glued to your television, you’ve been sitting there for hours waiting and stirring over the decision about to be made. After what feels like an eternity, it's finally here, the news you’ve dreamed of since you were a child; you are the next Madden cover artist. Etched into the annals of history, this can never be taken away from you. For this next year, every copy in America will bare you face on the cover until the next year when the new Madden comes out and you will forever be discarded to some bloggers worst Madden cover athletes of all time list.

Then you turn off your PlayStation and remember your reality, you never in a million years would be athletic enough to even be in the NFL. It was all just a video game, and you’re a 26 year old fat man watching old NFL games while writing a blog post for you and your friends website trying to blow up. This dream will forever stay just a dream. But what I I told you there was someone who wasn’t some huge football star who got to live that dream? Would you call me crazy? I know I wouldn’t believe it, and I didn’t believe it when it did happen. There was a man who came into the league and tore it up for one season. He did just enough to make the cover and then just like that he was gone. Just a flash in the pan. This man, no actually this enigma, was named Peyton Hillis.

The year was 2010. It was Peyton’s 3rd professional season and leading up to that season, he was just a fullback, a position in the twilight of its existence with he glory days growing smaller and smaller in the rear view of the NFL. Long gone were the days of Larry Csonka and Mike Alstott, but Hillis was like a new muffler on an old AMC Gremlin; it sounds good but it should have been gone years ago.

At the start of the 2010 season, ESPN had Hillis as the 63rd ranked running back for fantasy and the 183rd ranked player overall. He began the year behind Jerome Harrison on the depth chart who had one of the best fantasy performances ever at around 50 points in week 14 of the previous season and by all marks ended the year on a hot streak. There was 0 indication going into the season that Harrison was to be competing for the job he won, but by the end of the season, Harrison would be playing for the Eagles, his third team that season. Harrison, by all accounts, is the epitome of a one hit wonder for a single game running for 15.9% of his career rushing yards and 30% of his career touchdown total in one afternoon. But that story deserves it own article and we are here talking about the man who was able to have one full season of relevancy. Then, in his best impersonation of new coke, disappeared into obscurity never to be mentioned again.

I would just like to spoil the end of this article right now and say Peyton Hillis finished as the number 2 (this was the most common ranking I saw for him but there were some standard leagues with Adrian Peterson 2 and Hillis at 3) fantasy running back in 2010. He want all the way from pre season ranking of 183 and not even at that position on the depth chart *to be fair he was more flexible than a traditional fullback but none the less he wasn’t a full fledged running back you draft*. In order to fully understand what sort of break out season we are dealing with here, I think we need to go into a deeper breakdown to fully understand how this man, pictured right, was behind only Arian Foster, who himself had a career year and dominated the league, in fantasy points.

WEEKS 1 & 2

Let me preface this whole section saying my intention was to watch every single game from this season, but after discovering NFL Game Pass did not start having condensed games until the 2011 season, I had to make a decision; do I torture myself and watch full game broadcasts of a 5-11 browns season? Or do I pick and choose my games to watch. I decided on the former and made it all the way into halftime of their week 1 game against the Buccaneers before I could not do it anymore. First of all, the game was a mess and secondly my only purpose was to watch the Browns offense which was quite literally torture. So from here on out, I looked up highlights and then watched a couple of select games where Hillis really stood out in the box score.

Hillis began the season better than expected but still within the normal range for a player at his caliber. Here are his week 1 and week 2 stats. Nothing really special, however a surprise to start the season, he did out touch the starter Jerome Harrison. Both had 9 rushes but Hillis added 4 receptions to Harrison’s 1. Hillis was lucky enough to get in the end zone, but he did also fumble the ball twice losing it once. This game really only planted the seed of doubt for those who believed this was the breakout year for one Jerome Harrison but nothing really to indicate Peyton being more than a vulture for the year.

Week 2 against the Chiefs was much of the same. Only this time, Harrison was the workhorse with 16 rushes compared to Hillis’ 8. However, once again Hillis played the role of vulture and fell into the end zone. At this point Hillis began to appear on many waiver wire add lists for week 2 saying essentially what I have recapped so far, he is splitting time with the starter and he keeps scoring. He also surprisingly is out in the passing game as a solid check down option. Nothing so far would indicate that Hillis was more than a streaming option or if your team was lacking then maybe a flex option week to week. That all began to change week 3.


M&T Bank Stadium, the 0-2 Browns face off against the 1-1 Ravens. It's Seneca Wallace ( is that a Hunger Games character) as the Cleveland QB and the elite Joe Flacco for the Ravens. The Ravens defense has yet to allow a touchdown this season so naturally what does Peyton Hillis do against them? He made mince meat of them, by running almost literally straight every time he touched the ball. Watching this game, I saw him make maybe 3 cuts taking up approximately 5 seconds each time he attempted one. There was no trickery when he touched the ball; he was running straight and not avoiding any hit and it worked. With Harrison sidelined, it was Hillis’ backfield solely and he took full advantage, cementing himself as the destined starter of this team. He had one long run for 44 yards and the play went even further due to a weak late hit call. That was the most elusive he looked by slightly sidestepping a falling defender. He had a great week this week no doubt totaling 27.5 half PPR points and was second to only Adrian Peterson's 160 rushing yards. Week 3 is the official start of Hillis’ breakout season. Week 1 and week 2 were maybe glimpses or you could even say warm-ups, but against the Ravens he decided to shine. Being the Browns, however they still couldn’t pull of a win and lost 21-17 to go 0-3 on the season so far.


Next up are the 1-2 Bengals coming into Cleveland for the battle of Ohio and unlike the Alamo, everyone wants to forget these battles. Hillis was able to rush the ball 27 times while all other running backs combined for 0 total touches. It was Hillis and Hillis alone running the ball besides some scrambles by Seneca and 3 weird attempts by Josh Cribs which only amounted to 9 yards. Hillis, for the second week in a row, ran the ball for more than 100 yards and for the 4th game in a row, he got into the end zone. His combined rushing yards on touchdown plays this season: 13. He is the epitome of bruiser and the amount of attempts he is getting I believe is just on brand enough for the Browns.

Jerome Harrison didn’t play for who knows what reason. Technically leading up to this week, he was listed on the injury report and was limited in practice but Coach Eric Mangini claimed Harrison would “be in the mix” for the game against the Bengals. The only time he took the field was when the Browns went into victory formation. At this point Mangini is, to be frank, just being an asshole. It probably stems from the media coverage Harrison received last year saying he single handedly saved Mangini from being fired after almost 600 yards in the last 3 games of the 2009 season. Whatever his reason was, it was dysfunctional. Somehow still the Browns walked out with a win going to 1-3 on the season.

Here are his stats for the first 4 weeks of the year and damn! Did everyone overlook this guy in their pre-season rankings? Are the Browns just messing with us? Is Peyton Hillis actually a skilled running back? I believe the Browns were trying to prove it is no longer necessary to pay top dollar for a running back since you probably have a guy that if you give him the ball enough will run the ball straight for some good results. They aren’t winning results on the field but hey they do look good on paper, and more importantly in fantasy football.


These are the weeks where Peyton returns to pre season expectations and in week 5, he had only 77 total yards but luckily fell into the end zone on a pass keeping his touchdown streak alive for one more week. This week was Jerome Harrison’s final with the Browns and really cemented fully that Peyton was the premiere back in Cleveland after Harrison had only 6 yards on 6 carries. 3 days later Harrison, was traded for Mike Bell to the Eagles where he would go on to do close to nothing. Harrison is so relevant to this story because it displays the sort of ineptitude of the Browns organization, but also he is important in the overall theme of one hit wonders and how quickly they can be lost to only a memory with their name in a record book. Harrison still is 3rd all time for most rushing yards in a single game just a mere 10 yards behind the mark Adrian Peterson set, and in less than one calendar year he was a backup meant to only come in for a few touches a game. It shows that at any time in the NFL, anyone can breakout whether it be a play or a full season in Hillis’ case. After all that drama from the Browns, they still lose a home game against the Falcons.

Week 6 was a normal game between the Steelers and Browns with the Steelers acting as the older brother wrestling with their younger brother. There’s no real chance for the Browns but they always think this time is different. After an initial field goal by the Browns, the Steelers scored 21 unanswered and never looked back. Hillis had a relatively good fantasy outing that day still totaling 90 yards, but for the first time this season was unable to reach the end zone leaving his streak at 5 games. Still though, Hillis has his worst week this game ands still was able to get 12 points in half PPR leagues making him an incredibly consistent starter. Interesting fact about this game, Colt McCoy started for the Browns making it their third different starting QB in 6 weeks for an amazing pace of a new QB every 2 games. Did any of this work out? No, of course not because the football gods hate Cleveland and nothing ever changes.

Week 7 at New Orleans, it looks like the previous week was just a slight blip on the radar because our boy Peyton is back in the end zone this week and without that TD he would have finally had a game under 12 points. At this point, Hillis has become a waiver wire darling, lighting it up for teams who rightfully didn’t draft him. I mean I wouldn’t be surprised if Hillis didn’t even draft himself in a fantasy league he was in. Peyton has shown his team that he is capable of doing whatever they ask him to do and in this game, they even asked him to throw the ball once which he did successfully ( but I'm not adding to his stat sheet since that's just an annoying amount of work for me). This game overall was not good for the Browns offensively even though they won the game 30-17. Their defense scored 2 touchdowns, Phil Dawson kicked 3 field goals and the one Hillis actually ran in came after a pass interference call brought them 40 yards down the field. They only won because in surprising fashion the Browns didn’t commit any real mistakes. Still, even with everything around him falling apart, Hillis is able to walk out with another solid fantasy performance.


It’s the best week for professional football in Cleveland, BYE WEEK. It’s a week where there is no hope to be crushed and no dreams to be destroyed. It's impossible for the Browns to lose this week and fans are rejoicing. Somehow they even managed to enter the bye with a win so spirits are high while they can be.


The NFL was feeling either generous or spiteful when making the schedule this week giving the Browns the New England Patriots at home. I say generous because they are giving them the best chance they can to ever beat the Patriots, at home and after a bye. Or they are being spiteful trying to crush the Browns after they had such a good week of not losing a football game. In my opinion, the NFL was trying to be spiteful and crush Cleveland because overall the NFL does have an evil vibe, but their plan was futile and the Browns crushed them 34-14. I honestly could write a whole article on this game alone, where perennially bad Browns just destroyed the NFL’s super villain. Peyton this game was phenomenal and just absolutely fun to watch. He still was only running straight but for some reason, when it is all over the Patriots it feels like it takes a lot of talent, like he was moving more elusively when I know he wasn’t doing anything different.

Peyton did once again fumble in this game, but it didn’t matter since it was early in the game when they were ahead. From 2005 until today, this was the second best rushing performance against the Patriots behind only Knowshon Moreno and his 224 yard outing in 2013. Looking at the play by play for this game, it is just riddled with Hillis for 5 yards, Hillis for 4 yards, Hillis for 3 yards. It was truly a game where they just ran the ball down their throats for 4 quarters. This was the 2nd loss of the season fro the Patriots in a season they went 14-2. Their 2 losses were to the 11-5 Jets , who would also beat them in the divisional round, and the 5-11 Browns. Hillis would also win AFC player of the week and lead the league in rushing yards for the first time in a week. This was the peak of his career for sure to this point.

At an average of almost 19 points a game, Hillis this year would be ahead of players like Ezekiel Elliott, Josh Jacobs, and Chris Carson in average points per game making him 6th overall in that category. At this point in the season Hillis is now a must start and was out there winning people games consistently. For 2 games in a row he helped his own team win actual football games. He gets most of his work done in the ground, but his receiving numbers are getting him some extra love in PPR leagues they are the cherry on top of this surprising sundae.


We are back to business this game with Peyton getting just about his average everything, average carries, average yards, average TD’s. Hell he even got the usual one fumble to go along with this average stat line. The issue with this average for Hillis is that he still got 17 points when including the fumble. This man is showing why he won the starting position; because if you give him the ball he runs straight and falls forward since he is so damn hard to tackle. Of course since this game was average across the board the Browns lost to the Jets.


Okay I don’t know what happened this game, I could very well have said I replaced this stat line with one from a random Alvin Kamara game and it wouldn’t look suspicious at all. How does an NFL team allow a man that only knows how to run in a perfect line get 95 receiving yards? It was mostly because of one play where he caught the ball at about 8 yards downfield and then the defender did his best to look like a superman cape on Peyton’s back easily falling in the wind and Hillis took it downfield for 47 total. Once again, once he had the ball in his hand Hillis ran straight down the sideline with grace like a beautiful gazelle. He was able to not turn the ball over at all this time and finished the day with another outing over 20 fantasy points his 3rd of the season and he still has yet to fall under 12 points on the season a truly amazing feat of consistency. The Browns are also being consistent in losing games by losing this one as well. If you haven’t noticed the overall theme is actually that the Browns are terrible and have always been terrible.


This was his peak, his apex, the pinnacle of not only his season but also his career. There would never be a game like this again for Peyton Hillis and it was honestly all down hill from here. This game was not repeatable and he would never get close. It was his swan song, his final performance before fading to black. He did the most he could with this game and it was mostly over for him by the end of the first half. In the second half, he had 55 rushing yards and no touchdowns while in the first half he had 3 touchdowns and 76 rushing yards. But it was still glorious to watch. The Panthers, like all teams before them, could not figure out how to stop this man and this by far was his most well rounded game of the season nearing almost 200 total yards. This wasn’t his most total yards this season but the 3 touchdowns were the most of his career in 1 game and also the final touchdowns of his season. A 40 point game that this season culminated in. This is arguably the final game where we can say he was fully needed for his team to win and that they did. They beat the then 1-9 Panthers with a late game field goal, 24-23. All touchdowns for the Browns that day came at the hands of Hillis and it was his crowning achievement, only rivaled by the week 9 game against the Patriots. This game was what gave fantasy managers the belief that with Hillis in their starting lineup come playoffs there was no doubt they could win their league but just as quickly he rose to the top, he fell to the bottom.


It was his worst game of the season fantasy wise but he was still above 10 points on every game this season so it was only disappointing by his standards. He had state lines this season that were similar but was able to get into the end zone to elevate the game into that 18-19 point range. This week, he wasn’t so lucky. However, the Browns were able to walk out this week with a win over the Dolphins so it didn’t matter to them. To fantasy owners a disappointing week is okay and they're to be expected over the course of the season. On paper so far this looked to just be an off game and he was still going to be ready for when fantasy playoffs began next week.

Just absolutely incredible numbers for someone who was supposed to be a non factor this whole season. A man who started the season as the full back running back hybrid, whose clear role was to be the vulture on his team and maybe average 30 yards a game if he was performing amazingly. This was out of all the realms of possibilities and was truly unforeseen territory. Preseason analysts were wrong. There was no other way around it and they had to admit it. 20 points a game average is in a realm of its own and reserved for the truly great football players and this year, Peyton was one of them.


This is the week he eclipsed 1000 yards on the season, a defining mark on if a player had a good season or not. It was also the last time he would eclipse 100 yards in a game this season, a feat he would only accomplish 2 more times in his career. Unfortunately he didn’t score again this week and with his 3 fumbles, he finally dropped below 10 points for the first time this season. In a week managers needed a good game, Peyton did his best primetime Kirk Cousins impersonation and failed spectacularly. If you didn’t believe that the 3 touchdown game he had in week 12 was his swan song, this definitely was. His team wouldn’t score a single touchdown and would lose to the Bills 13-6 to drop to 5-8 on the season finally confirming what we all knew was inevitable, the Browns would not have a winning season.

WEEK 15-17

Each week was worse than the last. The only positive I can say about these last 3 week was that he didn’t fumble. These are the stat lines that we expected from him in the beginning of the season. He had decided to get the football world excited and hopeful again only to disappear in the final hours when managers needed him most. If teams were lucky enough to survive all the way to their fantasy championships and then also started Hillis in those week(s) he awarded them by doing the only appropriate thing he could as a Browns player and disappoint his fans. It was so bad that by week 17 he technically wasn’t the starter; Mike Bell was. I truly don’t know what I should have expected; all the signs were there we just overlooked them. I should have never gotten my hopes up right when I read that this was a Browns player coached by Eric Mangini. There was only one destination this road ended at, and it was one Browns fans have been traveling to for decades. The road always ends at disappointment. It ends every year for them in the same place, a cold snow covered bleak gray existence. Everyday waking up to the reminder that they are stuck in Cleveland.

He had 25.6 points over the last 4 games of the season. He had beaten that number in 3 separate games during the season and gotten close a 4th time. I tried to find any explanation for the sudden drop off in production, but I couldn’t. There were no injuries, no family matters, not even a voodoo curse I could find. It’s like he got too big for the spotlight and went back into his turtle shell to hide until the cameras were off him again. The Browns lost the final 4 games of the season to just pour salt into their wound.

The last we would truly hear of Peyton was during the Madden cover athlete search where Peyton would beat out such players as, Aaron Rodgers, Ray Rice, and Michael Vick. His victory was caused by a huge push from the Browns social media team and let's be honest, fans voting for him purely for the joke of it. A player who was not voted to the pro bowl would now be enshrined in the Madden hall of fame as one of the few cover athletes. His name doesn’t match the list filled with MVP’s and champions, but he made it. Arguably the biggest one hit wonder in all of football history, Peyton spent his next 4 years in the NFL staying true to expectations without ever eclipsing more than 600 yards in a season again. By the end of the 2011 season, he was traded away to Kansas City where he would be fighting for touches but ultimately lose that battle to Jamaal Charles.

Everyone looks back on their cover of Madden 12 collecting dust on their shelf and wonders how did someone like Peyton Hillis make the cover, but Peyton was the perfect Madden athlete. He was the real life version of so many created madden players over the years. If you made a running back, you either made the one who was tiny and agile or you made Peyton Hillis and steam rolled through the computer players week in and week out. I know I would always make my player the biggest underdog I could and prove the critics wrong and thats just what Hillis was able to do for a full season. He was the personification of the middle finger pointing at the critics out there who had doubted he could. Like so many of us who dreamed before him, Peyton was a dreamer, he just went and lived the dream while we played it in our rooms.

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