Nyheim Hines wasn’t one of the 2018 NFL Draft’s high-profile running backs, but he could be one of its most valuable after going in the fourth round to the Indianapolis Colts. The North Carolina State product only has one 1,000-yard season under his belt, but his speed and versatility will make him a weapon at the next level.
Hines’ strength comes from a diverse background with the Wolfpack. The former four-star recruit played both in the backfield and split out as a mismatch-creating wide receiver. In 2016, he caught more than 71 percent of his targets and finished second on the team in receptions. One year later, he filled Matthew Dayes’ vacated role as the team’s featured back and ran for 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns as NC State won nine games for just the second time since 2003.
But will his jack-of-all-trades approach translate to the NFL? And could his proven speed make him one of the Day 3 steals of this year’s draft? Here’s what he’s bringing to the table as an early-entry prospect.
Nyheim Hines is a lightning-quick chameleon
The first thing that sticks out about Hines is his top-end speed. No running back at the NFL Combine clocked a lower 40-yard dash time than Hines’ 4.38, a time that puts him on par with breakaway runners like Jamaal Charles and Maurice Jones-Drew. His one season as NC State’s top tailback ended with first-team All-ACC honors and accomplished enough to make him forgo his final year of college eligibility to enter the draft.
He’s more than just speed, however. Hines was the engine behind the Wolfpack’s success. In games where he ran for 50 yards or fewer his team was 1-3. In games where he sprang for 51-plus, it went 8-1.
At his best he’s a clock-grinding shapeshifter who cuts through tight spaces and uses a quick burst to break through to the secondary. He had five runs of 45-plus yards last fall, leaving little lag between Dayes’ departure and Hines’ turn at the top of the depth chart.
But while Hines proved himself as a runner in 2017, he’ll bring a big toolbox to the NFL in 2018. His receiving output justifiably declined last season as head coach Dave Doeren resisted the temptation to split him out of the backfield and instead kept him as a screen and checkdown option behind quarterback Ryan Finley. He still made 26 receptions, but his per-catch average dropped from 12.2 yards to just 5.8 as a result of his new role.
Hines also proved himself a worthy special teams talent. He averaged nearly 25 yards per kick return in his college career, returning a pair for touchdowns. 2017 marked his first season as a punt returner, and he was up for the challenge in a part-time gig.
Aside: poor Pitt.
Alvin Kamara’s success shows the NFL has evolved to cater to backs like Hines
Colts coaches may not be as conservative as Doeren had been when it came to anchoring Hines to the backfield. Alvin Kamara’s rookie success with the Saints has shown how dangerous a dual-threat runner/receiver can be. Though Hines is smaller and less effective as a pure tailback than Kamara was in his two years at Tennessee, his more-rounded receiving chops in college could be just the thing a hungry offensive coordinator needs to diversify his offense.
The similarity isn’t lost on Hines, who sees himself as a versatile runner/receiver. When asked about who he’d modeled his game after during a Reddit AMA, he replied “From the past Warrick Dunn. Present: Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey. I feel our games are similar.” He took a different route when it came to a straight-up comparison, landing on Tyreek Hill as a fellow speedster playmaker.
Hill is a lofty aspiration, but there’s some logic behind Hines’ choice. Hill was a wild card and track star who didn’t have a true role at Oklahoma State, but was athletic enough to be an early draft pick. His personal issues — including a domestic violence arrest that led to his dismissal from the Cowboys’ program — pushed him to the fifth round, but he managed to have an immediate impact with the Chiefs.
Hines isn’t as explosive as Hill was, but he doesn’t offer any of the character concerns the eventual West Alabama standout did in 2016. Like Hill, however, Hines have to prove he can handle either duty at the pro level. NFL.com’s profile of him paints him as a player too small to be a full-time running back and too inexperienced to make an immediate impact at wide receiver. That’s going to hurt his draft stock regardless of his NC State resume.
But the Colts can offer Hines a soft landing spot to start his career.
Having a versatile runner-receiver out of the backfield is becoming a standard for the league’s most successful teams. The two teams who met in Super Bowl 52 featured deep stables of tailbacks who can have a measured impact both on the ground and through the air. The Patriots relied on Dion Lewis and Super Bowl reception record holder James White to fill out Tom Brady’s receiving corps. The Eagles lost Darren Sproles to injury early in the season, then used Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement to a lesser extent to help fill the space he left behind.
Indianapolis already has a solid stable of runners with Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. That could be the anchor Hines needs to find NFL success. Being able to set Hines in motion before the snap should be enough to make opposing defenses scramble, as he has the talent and background to settle in as a slot receiver, split his way to the sideline, or light up the edge on a jet sweep. His versatility doesn’t just benefit himself — it also stands to lighten coverage for his teammates as well.
There’s no guarantee he even approaches the Rookie of the Year level Kamara played at, but the Saints’ success and a blazing 40 time have done wonders for Hines’ draft stock. While his college resume has some holes, he’s not just one of 2018’s most versatile players but also one of the fastest. That could make him a value pick for the Colts.