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Denard Robinson and Ronnie Hillman: Separated At Birth, Converging In Fantasy Value

Ronnie Hillman and Denard Robinson seem separated at birth. Hillman is a top-5 fantasy RB this week, but Robinson is more attractive for a full season.

Denard Robinson

By now, we all know the parable of identical brothers Chris Paul and Cliff Paul. After being separated at birth and following two distinctly different career paths, both men amazingly dedicated their lives to passing selflessness onto the next generation. On the basketball court, Chris Paul’s signature alley-oop (dee-doop) drew the attention of local basketball scouts. Meanwhile, off the court, Cliff Paul assisted neighborhood children by insuring their new tree house from his own State Farm branch. The moral of the story is that a little assist goes a long way.

Like Chris and Cliff Paul, Ronnie Hillman and Denard Robinson seem to be separated at birth. Like Chris and Cliff Paul, Hillman and Robinson are small but fast players who have thrived in starring roles. Like Chris and Cliff Paul, Hillman and Robinson are dedicated to assisting — assisting fantasy owners desperate for running back production.

How similar are Ronnie Hillman and Denard Robinson?

Ronnie stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 200-pounds. Denard stands 6-foot and weighs 199-pounds.
Ronnie runs a 4.45 40-yard dash. Denard runs a 4.43 40-yard dash.
Ronnie’s PlayerProfiler Burst Score is 124.9 (79th percentile). Denard’s Burst Score is 123.6 (73rd percentile)
Ronnie’s 2014 yards per carry is 4.7. Denard’s 2014 yards per carry is 4.8.

PlayerProfiler.com features a Best Comparable Player feature, which factors in a size, workout metrics, and college productivity. Surprisingly, most NFL players are relatively unique athletes and lack a closely comparable peer at their position. For this reason, Calvin Johnson‘s best comparable is “actually” Lebron James. However, in the curious case of Ronnie Hillman and Denard Robinson, the similarities are striking. Based on the PlayerProfiler comparison algorithm, no two NFL players are more identical than Hillman Robinson.

Ronnie Hillman and Denard Robinson represent an exciting new NFL trend: the every-down scat back. From Jamaal Charles to Giovani Bernard to Andre Ellington to Jerick McKinnon to Branden Oliver, whether by necessity or by design, more starting running backs are under 210-pounds than at any point in recent memory.

As offensive coordinators build on Chip Kelly’s “exploit the match-ups” methodology, the faster, more versatile players are receiving more touches. Teams are installing their own LeSean McCoys, and backs like Hillman and Robinson are responding by reeling off 100-yard games and posting 4.5-plus yards per carry in the process. Speed wins.

While Ronnie Hillman and Denard Robinson may be physically similar, their situations are remarkably different. Despite eerily similar efficiency metrics, Hillman has outscored Robinson 61 to 50 in PPR leagues due to his advantage in both touchdowns and receiving yards. Indeed, playing with Peyton Manning rather than Blake Bortles makes a big difference.

Toby Gerhart‘s return could not prevent Denard Robinson from eclipsing 100 yards again last week. If the Jaguar’s week 8 touch distribution continues, Robinson projects to receive enough opportunities to post fantasy RB2 numbers for the remainder of the season. Ronnie Hillman’s ideal situation makes him a top-5 fantasy running back for week 9, but Montee Ball‘s eminent return continues to cloud Hillman’s long term outlook. While Hillman is the better short term play, Robinson’s more certain touch volume, albeit in an inferior offense, makes him an equally attractive fantasy running back for weeks 10-16.

Matt Kelley (@fantasy_mansion) is an XN Sports contributor and founder of RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) and PlayerProfiler.com, which distills a wide range of advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.

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