Running back, Cleveland Browns | 24
It took just one game before we knew, before we were absolutely sure. With less than six minutes left in the first half of the season opener against Tampa Bay, Hillis took a handoff from quarterback Jake Delhomme and scored, virtually untouched, from 10 yards out. Scoring a touchdown in the first game, let alone the first quarter so easily? That's not the Cleveland we know.
This could be the guy who turns the franchise around. It's hard to believe that 10 months ago, the then-unknown 24-year-old running back from Arkansas was just a footnote in the Brady Quinn trade that sent the underwhelming quarterback to Denver in exchange for Hillis and two draft picks.
His arrival here was decidedly different than that of Quinn's: no camera crews, no flashy appearances, no fanfare. He approached the offseason like he had the other two years he'd been in the NFL, staying focused on football. Once he stepped on the field, it clicked. Call it meshing with a team or hitting his stride. Whatever it is, we believe. And so does Hillis.
"I think that with the guys and coaches we have on this squad, we're finally proving to people that this is a winner — not two or three years from now, but a winner now," Hillis said to press after the Browns' 34-14 win against the New England Patriots. "If we put our mind to it we can beat anybody."
Hillis is a beast. Think back to that Week 9 game against New England. Early in the first quarter, he scored a 2-yard touchdown after barreling through three Patriots. Three weeks later against the Carolina Panthers, he did his best impersonation of a battering ram, knocking safety Charles Godfrey out of the way for a 6-yard touchdown run.
Teams have tried and will continue to adjust to our star back's running style, but Hillis isn't concerned. He's just going to keep his head down and his legs churning.
"I just know that we need to do our game," he said during a Nov. 10 locker room interview, "and our game is hard, powerful, smash-mouth football, and we need to hold to that."