When Brian Hill arrived in Atlanta after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, it never “clicked” for him. He was selected with the hope he’d be the physical, downhill running back the Falcons were missing.
And while the hope was there, the production wasn’t.
Hill was cut by the Falcons in early October of the 2017 season. He was then signed to the practice squad where he was stayed for a month before being signed by the Bengals ending his first year in Cincinnati.
A year later, Hill was cut by the Bengals and was re-signed to the Falcons’ practice squad. Hill was activated to the 53-man roster a week later and spent the rest of the 2018 season making a name for himself.
Hill played in 10 games for the Falcons in 2018 rushing for 157 yards on 20 carries. He’s continued to prove he’s worthy of a roster spot this offseason and through the preseason so far with his play.
As he looks back on the past two years, Hill says the experience of being cut by two different teams was “definitely humbling.”
“I never imagined I was going to get cut,” he said.
Hill had two choices: Accept defeat or find a way to use his previous experiences as fuel.
He chose the latter and it would start with an honest conversation with himself.
“I got cut twice so [I said to myself] it’s not them, it’s me, so I have to do something different,” Hill said. “It definitely made me more mature, made me more open to criticism. If someone says something to me, it can never be as bad as what I already said to myself about whatever they’re talking about.”
Hill’s intent to make the most of his second chance has certainly been something those who have been close to the team have taken note of.
The 23-year-old made several impressive plays through training camp and throughout the first two preseason games.
“He’s hungry,” quarterback Matt Ryan said of Hill’s development. “You can tell that, every day he steps on the practice field, there’s a real intent for him to get better. To me, that’s been really impressive to see.”
Where Hill has improved most over the last two years is his ability to catch balls out of the backfield. Atlanta’s offensive scheme features its running backs as pass-catchers often.
Hill noticed this was an area of weakness and set out a plan of attack.
“People will tell you if you can’t catch the ball coming out of the backfield, you’re a two-down back, you’re going to limit yourself,” Hill said. “My rookie season, I came out here for camp and dropped everything. I knew I had to get better at that.”
When asked what has allowed Hill to make the jump he has, Falcons running backs coach Dave Brock said he believes the momentum started at the end of the 2018 season.
Hill’s best play as a Falcon came on Dec. 23 when he ripped off a 60-yard run against the Panthers showing the style of running back he’s capable of being.
“I really believe the jump started last year if you look back at the end of the season,” Brock said. “He practiced really well with us and then he was activated for a couple of games and he really ran the ball well for us in the last couple games of the year. Then just took that momentum and built on it. He’s got great focus in everything he’s doing and it’s carrying over on the field. His production has never been better.”
Through two preseason games, Hill has continued to put his best foot forward, rushing for 80 yards on 19 carries. He’s also scored a touchdown in each game.
And with three more exhibition games to go, Hill knows the importance of each one and is going to do everything he can to show he’s the “well-rounded” back he always knew he could be.
“I know in the NFL, you have to put it on tape,” Hill said. “As long as I put it on tape, I’m going to make the Atlanta Falcons keep me or put myself on someone else’s radar if I don’t get kept.”
Competing in the position battle for the No. 2 running back spot during preseason. Take a look at the best images of Brian Hill while in camp and preseason.