The Ravens hope Justice Hill’s adjustment to NFL football mirrors his rapid adjustment to college football.
In 2016, Hill was the nation’s leading freshman rusher with 1,142 yards. When he arrived at Oklahoma State, he started making plays immediately and never looked back.
As the Ravens prepare for rookie minicamp this weekend, Hill wants to have an instant impact. His 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine will bring a different element to the Ravens’ backfield, someone who can take the ball to the end zone from long distance.
Hill, a fourth-round pick (113 overall), doesn’t think it will be easy to earn playing time this fall. But he believes in his ability.
“I’ve always been the fastest guy on the field in my opinion since I first started playing around five years old,” Hill said during a conference call after being drafted. “I’ve just been developing and continuing to work on my speed, work in the weight room. I continue to get faster and stronger.”
The running back depth chart is crowded in Baltimore with Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon and Hill among those vying for roles. Ingram is a proven veteran with more than 6,000 career rushing yards. Edwards had three 100-yard games during the last two months of 2018, helping the Ravens make their playoff push. Dixon had 117 yards rushing in the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns that lifted the Ravens into the postseason.
However, the Ravens still drafted Hill because of his playmaking potential. Ravens safety DeShon Elliott, who went to Texas and played against Hill in college, had a positive reaction on Twitter after Hill was selected.
At 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, Hill has the agility to avoid tacklers, but enough power to run over them as well. Watching Hill on tape, Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz liked the variety of his runs.
“He is an athletic kid who flies, hits the hole hard and he can finish runs both inside and outside,” Hortiz said. “Just a lot of fun to watch. He’s so quick and sudden. You guys saw his highlights probably. He makes guys look bad in space with the ability to lower his shoulder and get yards on contact.”
The Ravens won’t need Hill to carry the ball 15 or 20 times a game, not with their running back depth. But the NFL is loaded with effective running backs who weren’t first-round picks. One of Hill’s college teammates, Chris Carson of the Seattle Seahawks, was a seventh-round pick in 2017 who gained 1,151 yards last season and scored nine touchdowns.
Oklahoma State has a proud history of running backs including two Pro Football Hall of Famers, Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. Dixon isn’t coming to Baltimore carrying lofty expectations like that. But he’s starting in a good situation for a running back, joining a team committed to its running game.
Head Coach John Harbaugh is not against giving a variety of running backs an opportunity and few expected Edwards to emerge as the Ravens’ primary running back when the 2018 season began. Edwards earned a chance and made the most of it. Now the Ravens hope Hill does the same.
“This guy is a breakout player,” Harbaugh said. You know, his brother (Dax) is committed to Michigan – or is actually signed at Michigan with the incoming class. So, you have two brothers playing for two brothers. Pretty cool. He’s a guy that can take it. If he gets a crack, they’re going to be chasing him.”