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First Down: Hillis detractors are about to get flexed

Over the past 12 months, Peyton Hillis'(notes) improbable ascension from sporadically used fullback to full-blown fantasy superstar to Madden '12 cover-athlete was nothing short of spectacular.

Last year, the Brown's rolling stone was indispensable in any sized leagues, particularly those that scored for receptions. He racked yards via ground and air (seven 100-total yard games) leaving a host of flattened defenders in his wake. Watch highlights of his breakout campaign, and his body count rivaled that of all four Rambo films combined. Though Hillis lost steam down the stretch — his yards per carry average dropped from 4.8 to 3.9 over the second half of the season — he along with fellow unexpected heroes Arian Foster(notes), Michael Vick(notes) and Brandon Lloyd(notes), were the fantasy faces of 2010.

Entering peak drafting season, one would think the fantasy community would be head-over-heels for Hillis. After all, he's a brutish, violent runner in the midst of his prime who barrels through holes created by one of the stiffest offensive lines in the league. Spend an early draft pick on his services and you won't be disappointed.

However, the opposite appears to be true.

Because of Pat Shurmur's newly installed West Coast brand, a scheme that plans to feature two-back sets, and Hillis' downward slide during the fantasy playoffs, expectations have cooled. As a result, many assume the Clydesdale won't match his exhaustive workload (20.7 touches/game), and thus his fantasy output, from a season ago. Unsurprisingly, he's become a staple on a number of preseason "bust" lists.

Don't be swayed by the Hillis haters.

Here are four reasons why the most-dissed star (23.2 ADP, RB14) from '10 will retain his RB1 standing:

Versatility. The common belief is, if healthy, Monatrio Hardesty and third-down specialist Brandon Jackson(notes) will log a few touches per game, slicing Hillis' touch total from last year by a sizable margin. However, as the Beacon Journal reported over the weekend, the incumbent's role within the passing game is actually expected to increase. Yes, the others will be involved to some extent, possibly netting 8-12 touches combined per game, but Shurmur realizes Hillis is a force on swings and dump-offs. Music to PPR owner ears, another 55-plus catch campaign is a near lock. The odds he surpasses 1,400 total yards are also favorable

Red-zone power. While Hardesty was slowly recovering from reconstructive knee surgery during the lockout, Hillis pulled ATVs, pick-ups and even fire trucks near his Arkansas home to stay in shape. He's a monster of almost mythical proportions. Last year, he ranked ninth among RBs in break tackles according to Football Outsiders. Because of his Thing-like strength, he, without question, will resume his role as goal-line back. Since touchdowns separate the haves from the have nots in fantasy, it's asinine to think his value will suddenly fall off the continental shelf. Even if his touch total is reduced by 30-40, he will post low-end RB1 numbers. Much to Andy Behrens' chagrin, plenty of "gun shows" are on the docket in Cleveland this season.

Matchup proof. For those that buy into preseason strength of schedule, Hillis' slate is unmistakably daunting. With division foes Pittsburgh and Baltimore on the agenda twice, it's the fourth-toughest. But due to the violent nature of the game, turnover is constant in the NFL. No two years are the same. Even if the Steelers and Ravens' reputations as premier run stuffers are upheld, Hillis is still capable of quality numbers. Prior to Week 12, only the Steely McBeams limited him to a single-digit scoring output. And he faced the likes of Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati and the Jets, defenses that finished in the top-11 in fewest fantasy points allowed to RBs.

Fragile backups. Hardesty, coming off reconstructive knee surgery, has yet to step on the practice field, though he's confident he'll return soon. In his absence, Jackson has worked exclusively as the No. 2, getting invaluable reps in the new system. Even when the second-year back finally suits up, there are no guarantees he will A) Avoid the IR or B) Overtake Jackson. If either happens, Hillis won't lose enough touches to warrant a significant price reduction. Based on his uneventful performance as a temporary starter in Green Bay last year, Jackson poses little threat. Even if Hardesty plays an entire season unscathed, it's very unlikely he will force a 60-40 timeshare.

Bottom line: While skeptics continue to point to Hillis' presumed workload decrease, rough schedule and ridiculous 'curse' as reasons for avoidance, savvy fantasy consumers will continue to snatch him up at a discounted Round 2 price.

Hillis is about to make his doubters look silly.

Bring the noise! Follow Brad on Twitter @YahooNoise.

Fearless Forecast (16 games): 253 carries, 1,113 rushing yards, 58 receptions, 447 receiving yards, 12 total touchdowns

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Image courtesy of US Presswire

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