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Doug Farrar

Is the Peyton Hillis trade Josh McDaniels' worst move?

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Denver Broncos head coach and actual general manager Josh McDaniel has made some, well, "interesting" personnel decisions since he took over the team before the 2009 season. He sent Jay Cutler(notes) to the Chicago Bears for Kyle Orton(notes) and draft picks, which would have been a great move if one of the first-rounders he received wasn't spent in a trade to Seattle to move up and select cornerback Alphonso Smith(notes) - a player who isn't even on the team anymore because he was traded to the Lions for tight end Dan Gronkowski(notes).

Trading Brandon Marshall(notes) to the Miami Dolphins for a second-round pick has worked out fairly well because Orton is playing very well this year, and Brandon Lloyd(notes) (of all people) is having a career year in that #1 receiver position formerly occupied by Marshall. Tim Tebow(notes) has barely seen the field this season, which makes his first-round selection somewhat curious for a team with so many needs on defense. And when McDaniels let defensive coordinator Mike Nolan go despite one of the biggest single-season defensive turnarounds in recent memory, his reputation as a mercurial person who leads with his ego was firmly established.

What may turn out to be the worst move McDaniels has ever made was certainly an afterthought at first. On March 15 of this year, McDaniels shipped former seventh-round running back Peyton Hillis(notes) to the Cleveland Browns for quarterback Brady Quinn(notes). The Browns also acquired a sixth-round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012. Hillis led the Broncos in rushing in his rookie season of 2008 (with only 343 yards, which is kind of impressive in an odd way) under Mike Shanahan, but McDaniels could find no place for him on a roster he was determined to remodel by demolition.

[Photos: See more of unlikely star Peyton Hillis in action]

Needless to say, it was an enormous mistake. Through eight games, Hillis has 644 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 133 carries. The Broncos have amassed 538 rushing yards ... as a team. They have the worst rushing attack in the league, and two fewer rushing touchdowns overall than the guy they let go for a quarterback that hasn't seen the field this season. Hillis also has more rushing touchdowns than his more glamorous backfield mates at Arkansas; Felix Jones(notes) and Darren McFadden(notes) have four combined (all from McFadden).

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It's an embarrassment for McDaniels, but the Browns are tickled pink about their new franchise running back, who blew up the Patriots for 184 rushing yards on 29 carries and also ran very strong against the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the season - he's not putting up these totals against creampuff defenses. "I think what you're going to get from his is a consistent performance," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said of Hillis last week. "He's tough, he's a hard-nosed player, he's out there every day, I think he's a good leader for our football team, he's a competitive guy and you just look for a consistent performance from somebody like that. He's done that to this point."

"We played the way football should be played; well on both sides of the ball, taking time off the clock, you rest your defense and that's what you have to do," Hillis said after the New England win. "I think that with the guys and coaches we have on this squad, we're finally proving to people that this is a winner - not two or three years from now, but a winner now. If we put our mind to it, we can beat anybody."

The Browns have now proven that, and Peyton Hillis may be the main reason.

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