There is a legitimate scenario where Justice Hill does not make the Ravens 53-man roster when all is said and done. On the flip side, there is also a not-so-hard-to-see situation where Hill takes the first handoff of the season as the opening-day starting running back.
Such is the paradox of 2022 Justice Hill.
Hill came to the Ravens in 2019 out of Oklahoma State offering a tantalizing skillset to a running-back room that was featuring Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards. While the other two provided physical, downhill styles to the position, Hill brought light feet that could find their way through traffic, and 4.4 speed that could get a corner and churn to daylight in a hurry. He was the proverbial lightning to their thunder.
But he didn’t make much of an impact that rookie season, as Ingram, Edwards and quarterback Lamar Jackson carried the load for the most successful rushing attack in NFL history. Hill did have an opportunity to showcase his skills a bit in a meaningless final game against Pittsburgh, and he generated 39 yards on 10 carries, breaking his only three tackles of the season and displaying perhaps a bit more physicality in his game than many of us saw coming.
Justice Hill makes 3 Steelers miss en route to the touchdown. Baltimore leads Pittsburgh 16-7 at halftime. pic.twitter.com/eAird6ofkO
— Football Unwrapped (@FootballUSN) December 29, 2019
Still, it didn’t translate into a drastic increase in playing time for the young back, and he only rushed for 60 yards on 12 carries the following season, to go with five catches. Hill’s value to the Ravens those first two years came on special teams — an important role under coach John Harbaugh, but still… not what many had hoped for when he first came to town.
And then Hill caught a case of Ravenitis in 2021, joining many of his teammates in suffering season-long injuries, including the top two backs on the roster in JK Dobbins and Edwards. The Ravens run game sputtered throughout that injury-marred season, and it’s easy to speculate that 2021 would have been Hill’s best chance to staking a claim to serious playing time in the backfield going forward.
Alas, it was not meant to be. And the Ravens added rookie Tyler Badie and veteran Mike Davis to the room this offseason as they awaited the returns of Dobbins and Edwards. It appeared to many that Hill’s time in Baltimore had come to an unceremonious end, as the numbers game was not falling in his favor.
But Dobbins is just now getting back into the practice flow, and Edwards has yet to get off the PUP list. Hill and Davis have taken the lion’s share of reps at training camp, and Hill has stood out on most days with his obvious speed and turned some heads with an impressive blitz pick-up during the live practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, July 30. He looked good again last week in the team’s preseason opener, and showed his ability to pinball his way through traffic, turning speed into power to get into and past the second level.
Hill has looked the part this offseason, but you obviously never know what will happen as Dobbins and Edwards presumably move their way back into healthy football-playing shape. The presumption here is that he sticks, stands out on special teams and gets a few opportunities a game on offense to add some diversity to the team’s attack.
And that says a lot about Hill and his work ethic. And we know that also flies on a Harbaugh team.