7 reasons the Saints starting Taysom Hill is taking the NFL by storm

John Sigler
·5 min read

The New Orleans Saints sent spectators into an uproar on Friday when ESPN reported that they were rolling with Taysom Hill to start at quarterback in relief of Drew Brees, rather than the more-experienced Jameis Winston. Hill’s doubters have put together a ton of talking points, ranging from his age to his college performance. But here are seven topics we’ll be keeping in mind as Sunday’s matchup with the Atlanta Falcons approaches:

Taysom Hill is older than Brock Osweiler, who just retired

Osweiler, 29, hung up his cleats in mid-October. He also started 32 of the 51 games he played in the NFL, predominantly with the Houston Texans (14 starts in 15 games) and Denver Broncos (11 of 27). Punted around from one team to the next -- at one point, Osweiler was traded to the Cleveland Browns to unload his salary, though he never took a snap there -- Osweiler posted a career completion percentage of 59.8%. Hill has seen a significantly smaller sample size, but his 55.6% completion percentage is noteworthy.

It’s been 1,455 days since Hill last started a game at QB

That would be his final college start at BYU, when he defeated rival Utah State off of a 10-of-21 passing line for 101 yards and 12 carries for 46 yards on the ground. But a hyperextended elbow knocked him out of that game late in regulation, his third season-ending injury at the college level. It would cost him an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl against Wyoming and a young Josh Allen, who has gone on to have his own divisive NFL career with the Buffalo Bills.

And he has played more snaps at receiver than QB

Pro Football Focus charting has credited Hill with 42 snaps at quarterback this season, compared to 41 at slot receiver and 15 out wide (56 total). That holds true in the 2019 data, when he lined up at quarterback just 41 times while playing from the slot on 72 plays with 44 snaps at wide receiver (85 total). And that doesn’t even get into his snaps at tight end (85 last year) or fullback (22), which has picked up this season (51 total in just 9 games). And Hill was a special teams ace initially, where he played more often in 2018 (343 special teams snaps against 182 offense) and 2019 (287 versus 241), but has stepped back in 2020 (just 68 reps in the kicking game).

His 2020 salary cap hit is just $4.841 million

Sure, Hill signed a one-year extension early this offseason as a pacifying gesture by the Saints after they brought in Winston to compete with him. And he is due to count $16.159 million against the 2021 salary cap, a number that will go down one way or another (his $10.72 million base salary is primed for a restructure). But the Saints can save $5 million by cutting Hill outright in the offseason, and that’s important to keep in mind. If he flames out quickly in an offense tailored to his strengths against a vulnerable opponent, the Saints could pull the plug on the experiment without hurting themselves in the long term. More realistic would be another extension to lower that 2021 cap hit of $16.159 million, but it will only happen if Hill proves himself as a passer.

He’s been impressive in the preseason

Full disclaimer: it’s the preseason, and Hill should have shined against players who aren’t in the NFL anymore. But his 2019 performance endeared him to Saints fans quickly, when he went 40-of-59 for 443 passing yards, throwing 3 touchdowns against 1 interception (and tacking on 18 carries for 148 rushing yards). His best game was against the Los Angeles Chargers, when he led a second-half comeback for the win. That was the last time anyone got a good look at Hill as a full-time quarterback running plays designed for him, and it’s worth remembering. You can bet the Falcons coaching staff are watching that tape closely to help inform their game planning.

And it turns out Sean Payton has been telling the truth

Sean Payton has been telling anyone who would listen that he views Hill as his future quarterback after Brees, but his actions haven’t lined up with those words. First he signed Teddy Bridgewater, and turned to him when Brees was injured last year. Then he signed Winston, who immediately replaced Brees mid-game this time. But with a week to prepare Hill to start and rehearse the offense around him, all of Payton’s comments likening Hill to Hall of Famers and expressing confidence in his passing acumen end up looking different. It was never a smokescreen: it was what he earnestly believed.

It’s all just so unprecedented for the modern era

Teams don’t work this way anymore. Head coaches and general managers around the NFL are under so much pressure to deliver results right away that few rookies sit on the bench for long. And it wasn’t always like that. Back in the day, teams could stash an heir-apparent on their bench for years before making a planned transition; Steve Young famously waited for his chance until 1991, when he started 10 games as a 30-year old quarterback replacing the legendary Joe Montana. Young has been Payton’s go-to comparison for Hill all along, and in that aspect it makes sense. We haven’t seen it yet, but maybe Hill can make the most of this opportunity to live up to that lofty billing.

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