METAIRIE, La. – Sean Payton, the New Orleans Saints coach who once gave you a surprise onside kick for the second half of a Super Bowl, has just made perhaps his most intriguing decision yet.
Taysom Hill – one of the NFL’s most intriguing and polarizing playmakers – will make his quarterback debut on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, a source shared with ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
We really shouldn’t be shocked that the Saints vote Hill over Jameis Winston. Payton has said publicly for the past three years that he believes 30-year-old Hill could succeed as a starting quarterback in the NFL – despite attempting only 20 career passes, including the playoffs. Payton and his surroundings have always confirmed this privately. And the Saints proved it by signing Hill a $ 21 million two-year contract extension as a restricted free agent this off-season.
Now with Drew Brees on indefinitely sideline with broken ribs and a lung injury, Payton is set to take out his first read quarterback for a high-stakes test drive.
Yes, the Saints are probably doing this in part so they can figure out what they have in Hill before they have to make permanent long-term decisions in case Brees retires after this season.
And yes, Payton’s hubris might play a role as there seems to be a general consensus among NFL speakers that Hill cannot work as a full-time quarterback.
But none of these elements would beat the fact that New Orleans is trying to come up with the best plan to win now. The Saints (7-2) know the importance of earning NFC # 1 better than most teams after suffering so many playoff losses over the past decade. And they don’t want to cede any floor until Brees is there.
Now to the burning questions about the move:
Can this actually work?
The short answer is yes, of course can Job. Just because Hill has rarely thrown the ball in his career (11 of 20 for 255 yards, zero TDs, and one interception) doesn’t mean he can’t. He used his big arm to make a 50-yard pass to the Saints’ playoff loss to Minnesota in January. He threw for 6,929 yards and 43 TD passes during his injury-ridden career at BYU, during which he was once touted as a Heisman candidate.
And back when we had preseason games, in 2019 he completed 40 of 59 passes for 443 yards, three TDs and an interception, in addition to what he did with the Saints in 2018 and the Green Bay Packers in 2017 (when he was impressive enough to inspire the Saints to ask him to give renouncements).
“He’s got a better arm than you want for a man who runs as well as him,” said Jeff Ulbrich, the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, this week.
Not to compare directly to reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson’s level of talent, but that was another case where a crime blossomed when it came to creating a game plan for a running quarterback. Perhaps a better comparison would be the success the Buffalo Bills had with Josh Allen last year while his throwing accuracy was still in the works. And no one disagrees with the idea that Payton is one of the best attackers in the league when it comes to developing fixtures and making calls.
Most likely, the Saints’ offense will involve a large amount of scheduled runs for Hill, read runs where he has the option to hand over to Alvin Kamara, or scheduled passes where he expires as a second or third read.
Yes, it can be predictable. But the defense has yet to stop it. And to date, Hill has averaged 5.7 yards per carry over 105 career storms. Only three NFL players have averaged more than that with at least 100 broadcasts since the start of the 2018 season (Kyler Murray, Raheem Mostert and Jackson according to ESPN Stats & Information).
In all fairness, the risk of injury is the biggest concern with the prospect of Hill being a long-term starter at quarterback. Not only did he suffer a number of injuries in college, he wasn’t shy about making contacts in the NFL. He plays both the quarterback and running back positions as if he were a linebacker.
Wait, how is Hill 30 years old?
This is the one that critics point out even more than Hill’s lack of pass attempts – his age. He’s actually four years older than Winston.
Hill got a late start to his college career at BYU. He served a two-year ecclesiastical mission with Latter-day Saints Church of Jesus Christ after being named 5-A All-Idaho Player of the Year at Pocatello Highland High School. He has missed three football seasons since his mission began in the winter after his senior year. He was originally signed to play for trainer Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, but made partial transfers to BYU so he could enroll early in school after his mission was finished.
Hill then spent five years at BYU, including a medical red shirt season. He had a total of four injuries at the end of the season (knee in 2012, broken leg in 2014, torn ligament in the foot in 2015 and hyperextended elbow in 2016). Still, he ended his career with 6,929 yards, 43 touchdown passes, 2,815 rushing yards and 32 rushing TDs, while he was nicknamed “Thor-terback” by the Cougars coaching staff.
The Dan Le Batard Show analyzes the Saints’ decision to launch Taysom Hill against the Falcons and how it will affect the future of Jameis Winston.
What does that mean for Winston?
This remains unclear as the Saints kept their plans close to the waistcoat. We don’t yet know if Winston will scrutinize a twist in Brees’ absence as well, as the Saints try to evaluate all of their options, short term or long term – or whether they will ride Hill for as long as he promises.
We know for this week anyway, a source told ESPN’s Dianna Russini that Winston will not be part of an offensive package unless needed because of an injury.
This is not necessarily an indictment against Winston. By all accounts, the Saints have been pleased with Winston’s development this season and love his demeanor, leadership, and work ethic. And Payton is in love with his poor talent. New Orleans has by no means closed the door to Winston as the potential successor to Brees.
This must be a disappointment for the former No. 1 draft pick, however, considering he came to New Orleans this off-season to revive his career after sales began to define him in Tampa Bay.
Winston signed a discounted one-year contract with the Saints worth $ 1.1 million plus incentives. He wanted to get a “Harvard education” in the QB school with Payton, Brees and experienced assistant coaches such as Pete Carmichael Jr. and Joe Lombardi. If Winston could (or still does) succeed in a temporary role with the Saints, he could potentially turn that into a lucrative second chance as an NFL starter like Teddy Bridgewater did at the Carolina Panthers after his 5-0 stint did an injury for Brees last season.
What does that mean for Hill’s Fantasy Value? And Kamara and Michael Thomas?
Hill qualifies as a close finish in ESPN Fantasy Leagues. So stop reading this right now and grab it if that’s the case in your league. Hill wouldn’t be a bad option at QB in deeper fantasy leagues either, as he is sure to blow up lots of rush gardens with quick TD opportunities and whatever he does to throw the ball.
Unfortunately, Hill’s presence at the quarterback is likely to degrade the value of the likes of Thomas, Receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and Jared Cook. Thomas will likely be Hill’s main target, just as he was for Brees and Bridgewater. Expect Thomas to improve his numbers from his three games this season. (Thomas’s snapshots were limited two weeks ago, and a strange game script resulted in a low number of passes last week.)
But there’s no denying the Saints will be less – and less accurate – tossing the ball with Hill at the quarterback.
As for Kamara, his value could take an easy blow, especially with Hill Geier running away a few goal-line TDs from him. But the running game and the short-passing game will still play a big part in the New Orleans offensive, and Kamara is ideal for both.