The NFL has a long history of hybrid backfield weapons who have had a great deal of success. No recent Philadelphia Eagles running back that comes to my mind quicker than Darren Sproles and he has only played there for a few seasons. Earlier in his career, Sproles spent time gashing the Indianapolis Colts defense for the San Diego Chargers — two teams head coach Frank Reich knows very well.
In fact, the Chargers also had Danny Woodhead after he played his early years with the New England Patriots. Speaking of the Patriots, they have featured a rotation of hybrid backs that includes Dion Lewis and James White, who have played key roles in important playoff wins. The Cleveland Browns have Duke Johnson, who terrorizes opponents catching passes out of the backfield. The Detroit Lions get a ton of production out of Theo Riddick as a receiving threat in their backfield rotation.
What do all of these players have in common? They’re all undersized. They’re all used heavily in rotations. They’re all hybrids in that they split out and run routes with what can be a full receiver route tree. They’re all big-play threats who can take a screen pass to the house or abuse linebackers in coverage.
Perhaps the next player who can join this list of dangerous undersized speedsters is Nyheim Hines from NC State. Colts GM Chris Ballard used his fourth round pick, number 104 overall, to bring Hines into the fold in his new-look offense. Reich has described this offense as “multiple” and discussed a greater emphasis on utilizing no-huddle and hurry-up to keep the defense off balance. Reich intends to dictate the pace of play when he has the ball, and he intends to dictate to the defense who they will have to cover to create mismatches.
In order to achieve his goal, Reich needs to find players who have the ability to stay on the field during a drive and change roles or move around the field if necessary to press his advantages. Hines is the second offensive weapon Ballard has provided Reich this off-season to make this possible. Tight end Eric Ebron can shift all over, from playing tight, to slot, or lineup as a wideout. Similarly, Hines can in the backfield or all over the field as a receiver.
Chris D’Andrea of SB Nation even wrote about Hines as a player who could be the next Alvin Kamara. While this would be a huge steal for the Colts, he doesn’t have to be Kamara to be a dangerous threat who helps Reich and his offense. De’Andrea discussed the dangerous qualities Hines bring to the backfield:
The first thing that sticks out about Hines is his top-end speed. No running back at the NFL Combine clocked a lower 40-yard dash time than Hines’ 4.38, a time that puts him on par with breakaway runners like Jamaal Charles and Maurice Jones-Drew. His one season as NC State’s top tailback ended with first-team All-ACC honors and accomplished enough to make him forgo his final year of college eligibility to enter the draft.
He’s more than just speed, however. Hines was the engine behind the Wolfpack’s success. In games where he ran for 50 yards or fewer his team was 1-3. In games where he sprang for 51-plus, it went 8-1.
While Hines took a step back as a receiver in his new role as the feature back for NC State, he has a lot of experience as a receiver. In fact, he started his college career as a slot receiver and focused on learning the entire route tree. This is something that only a handful of backs who make their way into the NFL have in their bag of tricks. Hines discussed this attribute in an interview with Justin Melo of Draft Wire:
I want people to know that I think I’m the most explosive player in this draft. Some teams have me at running back, others have me at receiver. The common theme is that every team talks about my versatility. I’m the most explosive running back and the most dangerous running back because I can go out there and do things that most running backs can’t do. I don’t think there’s another running back in this class that caught 80 balls while running the entire route tree. I don’t think anyone else can handle kick and punt return duties in addition to what I did as a runner and pass catcher, I even played gunner on special teams. I can cover kicks and make tackles. I feel like I’m the most explosive, versatile player in this class.
Of course, any player is going to have a glowing endorsement of himself but there is very little that Hines embellishes here. He may or may not be the most explosive player but he ran the 40-yard dash faster than any other running back in the class, had multiple plays of over 40 yards out of the backfield, and even returned kicks and punts for touchdowns. It is certainly arguable that Hines is the most dynamic offensive weapon in the class. Also, for what it’s worth, Hines said he was a little disappointed in his 40-yard dash at the Combine:
Yeah, I thought I was going to finish first. I thought I was going to run a little bit faster, to be honest. I was actually a little bit upset about my time. That was like my slowest timed 40-yard dash I’ve ever ran. I did think I would finish in first place going in, though. I was happy to see that I did that.
If Hines really is even faster than his blazing Combine time, he will be a threat to take each carry to the house. It is hard to imagine that he won’t go for long yards if he reaches the second level cleanly and with young players like Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith in front of him, who are both considered maulers in the ground game, he might have a chance to do just that.