The New England Patriots’ reported decision to sign running back Jeremy Hill is a curious one.
That’s not to say it’s a bad decision or that he won’t work out in New England. But signing Hill was a noticeable departure for the Patriots.
That’s because Hill isn’t a typical athletic fit for the Patriots. Since the Patriots have actually seen Hill play four NFL seasons, that might not matter. They know what he can and can’t do against NFL defenses, so they just might not care about his pre-draft testing numbers at this point, but they have seemed to matter in the past with other players.
Hill ran a 7.64-second 3-cone and 4.59-second 20-yard shuttle at his pro day in 2014. Those are the slowest recorded numbers we can find for a Patriots running back in the Bill Belichick era.
Here are the three-cone drills and short shuttles of recent Patriots running backs:
Rex Burkhead: 6.85/4.09
James White: 7.05/4.20
Mike Gillislee: 7.12/4.40
Brandon Bolden: 6.91/4.32
Dion Lewis: 6.90/4.18
LeGarrette Blount: 6.85/4.49
Joey Iosefa: 7.09/4.28
Stevan Ridley: 6.78/4.17
Shane Vereen: 6.95/4.28
Danny Woodhead: 7.03/4.20
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 7.56/4.50
Justise Hairston: 6.94/4.15
Sammy Morris: 7.05/4.21
Players like Jonas Gray, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Corey Dillon, J.R. Redmond either didn’t test or their times aren’t known.
Green-Ellis’ numbers are closest to Hill’s, but he’s a major outlier, and he originally was signed as an undrafted free agent. Otherwise, the Patriots prefer 3-cones hovering around or under the seven-second mark and short shuttles around or below 4.2 seconds.
Agility and lateral quickness certainly matter less for downhill runners like Hill, but other bigger backs, like Gillislee, Bolden, Blount, Iosefa, Ridley and Morris, definitely tested better.
Testing numbers don’t really matter if a player can or can’t force missed tackles despite them.
Hill ranked 102nd out of 130 running backs in 2017 in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating. He forced just four missed tackles on 41 touches and averaged 2.38 yards after contact.
Hill ranked 43rd out of 53 qualified running backs in elusive rating in 2016, forcing 26 missed tackles on 243 touches with 2.46 yards after contact.
He ranked 45th out of 52 qualified running backs in 2015 and 17th out of 42 qualified running backs in 2014. His rookie season was by far the best of his four-year career.
The Patriots seemed to value missed tackles and yards after contact when signing running backs last offseason. Burkhead and Gillislee both ranked well in those metrics in 2016.
Hill is a more experienced receiver than Gillislee, and he might prove to be better as a short-yardage battering ram when the Patriots only need to pick up 1 or 2 yards. He’s 6-foot-1, 230 pounds and had 30 touchdowns in his first three seasons. His elusiveness ultimately might not matter if his role doesn’t call for it.
But it’s worth noting this isn’t a typical Patriots signing.