GREEN BAY – As the NFL Draft drew to a close last month, the Packers got what many considered a steal when Kylin Hill was still on the board late in the seventh round.
While Mississippi State's football program underwent significant change during his four years in Starkville, Hill was an offensive pillar for the Bulldogs, producing 3,166 yards from scrimmage with 22 touchdowns in 30 career games.
Jon-Eric Sullivan, the Packers' co-director of player personnel, was a big fan of the 5-foot-10, 214-pound running back from the start – all the more reason why General Manager Brian Gutekunst was startled to find Hill still available when the Packers went on the clock in the seventh round at No. 251.
"He's a very talented individual," said Gutekunst of Hill last month. "We were surprised to see him on the board that late and were kind of holding our breath there in the seventh round, but we were excited to get him. He's an explosive athlete as a runner, catches the ball really well, and he may be able to add some special-teams value, as well."
Hill, known for his shifty and elusive running style, was a four-star recruit for Dan Mullen in 2017. The following year, during Joe Moorhead's inaugural year as head coach, Hill captured the starting job in the Bulldogs' backfield.
Hill rushed for 734 yards and four TDs on 117 carries in 11 starts in 2018. He eclipsed 100 rushing yards on three occasions, including a dominant 211-yard performance with three scores (two rushing, one receiving) in a 31-10 win over Kansas State.
Hill's offensive coordinator that season? Current Packers passing-game coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Luke Getsy.
"He was a special player, man, for us there," Getsy said. "He had the ability to run the ball between the tackles and you could be on the plus-20(-yard line) or the minus-20 and he had the ability to score.
"He's a guy who we built a lot of what we did at Mississippi State around him and around his ability."
While Getsy returned to the Packers in 2019, Hill made the AP All-SEC first team after racking up 1,350 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. As team, however, the Bulldogs fell to 6-6 and Mike Leach was brought in to replace the fired Moorhead.
Hill initially returned for his senior year, an arrangement that would pair him with a new position coach for the fourth time in as many seasons, but then chose to opt out after three games to prepare for the draft.
Still, Hill's brief stint in Leach's Air Raid offense allowed him to display more of his skills as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. In just three starts, Hill set single-season, career-highs in both catches (23) and receiving yards (237).
"I feel like my hands are pretty good," said Hill during last month's rookie minicamp. "(My) first couple years, I've been in the run-first offense, so, then my last year I was on Coach Leach's offense, the Air Raid, which I had to show my hands off even more. I'm very confident in my hands. I believe I can make any catch possible."
One area of Hill's game that could give the rookie a leg up on the running back competition is his ball security. He fumbled just once with Mississippi State (at Texas A&M in October 2017). After that, he touched the ball 448 times without issue.
What's more, you'd have to go all the way back to Hill's sophomore year at Columbus (Miss.) High School for the last time he lost a fumble.
That's welcome news for the Packers, who lost sure-handed veteran Jamaal Williams in free agency. Williams went his entire four-year run in Green Bay without a single fumble on 652 touches (including playoffs).
"The one thing he has done a great job of is securing the ball in traffic and you can see him do it here when we practice," said running backs coach Ben Sirmans of Hill.
"It's really kind of hard to believe just with how he carried the ball in college, he carried it away from his body a lot. But he just had that great presence of mind to know that anytime the defense started to close in on him, he was ready to secure it."
After leaving school, Hill spent the rest of 2020 training at EXOS in Frisco, Texas, with Brent Callaway. While viewed by some draftniks as a change-of-pace back who lacks vision and burst, Hill is hungry to prove there's so much more to his game.
"We just basically keyed in on the aspects of me catching the ball, being more explosive, basically just creating big plays in the open field whenever I get that opportunity," Hill said. "Hopefully, I get to show it here."
The Packers were on the practice field Wednesday, June 2 during the offseason program.