When Saints head coach Sean Payton half-jokingly told FOX Sports NFL announcing team Joe Buck and Troy Aikman during a Game Week production meeting last December that back-up QB Taysom Hill is the quarterback who will one day replace Drew Brees as the next starting quarterback for the Saints franchise, the response was one that drew laughter and even outright indignation from a large portion of the team’s fan-base.
That’s because the current 3rd string QB wasn’t thought of at that time as a player who would be competing for the job, much less sticking around and remaining on the team’s permanent roster to be anything more than a contributor on special teams.
But now with the team only 1 week away from the start of Training Camp next Thursday (July 26th), you can believe it: Hill is going to be much more than simply just a “project” for the New Orleans Saints in 2018.
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Payton originally walked back his comments to Buck and Aikman a few days later, telling the local media covering the team that he was taken out of context by the announcing pair, who relayed to viewers at home about the intriguing possibilities of such a scenario unfolding over the next few years for the franchise.
“What I said was, ‘This player, as a special-teams player, I think is gonna do very well. And we like the prospect as a quarterback,'” Payton said. “I think we saw enough on tape to claim him and put him on our active roster. But anything we do with regards to where we’re going forward is certainly something that’s gonna be won and lost on the field.”
Now here we are approximately 7 and a ½ months removed from those comments, and Hill’s status promises to be the biggest storyline of this year’s Training Camp, bigger even than the progress and development of the team’s top draft pick, rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport.
This year’s Pre-Season games (the first one at Jacksonville is a week from now next Thursday Night) will even be more scrutinized than normal; and that’s because they’re expected to draw attention simply for the fact that so much emphasis has been placed on finding the eventual “heir apparent” to Brees after his inevitable retirement, which most likely will occur within these next 2-to-3 years (possibly longer).
Maybe the Saints already have that player already on the roster with Hill, or perhaps they don’t — but nevertheless, they along with everyone else, will indeed find out in the next few weeks ahead if Hill is truly up to the task.
Hill has looked good previously during team OTA’s throughout the off-season and at last month’s Mini-Camp and has obviously emerged as a contender to become Brees’ eventual successor thanks to his dynamic athleticism.
But he will have to show that he can become a more accurate passer throwing the football and can improve on his timing, both important traits of QB play that he still seems to lack.
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Hill started 33 games at BYU, throwing for 6,929 yards, 43 touchdowns, and 31 interceptions. For a quarterback, Hill can be a dangerous rushing threat.
He rushed for 2,815 yards, a BYU record for quarterbacks, and 32 touchdowns. So clearly, his talent as both a passer and certainly as a runner, aren’t in question.
What is (and what likely factored into the Green Bay Packers’ decision to release him last September during their team’s Final Roster cuts) are his age and previous injury history.
At age 27 (he will already be 28 at the end of next month), Hill came to the Saints from Green Bay a bit older as most NFL rookies usually are, after completing a two-year mission trip before his playing career at BYU as a devoted follower of the Mormon religious faith (whose founders helped build the school originally back in 1875).
Additionally, Hill has also had injury issues in previous years and has never once played a full season. He suffered four season-ending injuries during his time in Provo, Utah, which included a knee injury, broken leg, a Lisfranc fracture and a hyperextended elbow.
Even so, the Pocatello, Idaho native finished his career with 75 total touchdowns and ran for more scores than any other BYU quarterback. Bleacher Report NFL Draft analyst Brett Sobleski says that Hill’s talent is undeniable and that he was one of college football’s most dynamic quarterbacks.
Hill’s body just simply let him down at that time, and the injury concerns — and not his capability as a pocket passer — was the main reason why he went undrafted.
But nevertheless, putting his older age and previous injury history aside, Hill still has very intriguing abilities as a dual-threat quarterback.
His unique skill set could be a huge advantage for the Saints, and it undoubtedly was one of the reasons why Payton and the Saints organization were so quick to jump on him following his release by the Packers.
After signing with the Packers last year, Hill was #4 on the depth chart, and was expected to be just a “camp body”.
But Hill was arguably the Packers’ best quarterback in all of last Pre-Season, completing 14 for 20 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (124.8 rating).
He had the winning 23-yard touchdown scramble at Washington in Week #2 of the 2017 Pre-Season; and later threw a scrambling 25-yard touchdown while on the move in the Pre-Season finale against the Los Angeles Rams.
“Taysom played very well,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after that final Pre-Season win. “I feel like I’ve said that seven times already, but he played very well.”
Yet just a few days later, Hill was released in favor of back-ups Brett Hundley and Joe Callahan, and the Saints quickly pounced on him.
Payton, though, wasn’t actually looking for another quarterback when he stumbled across Hill while watching tape of Max McCaffrey, the ex-Packers receiver who was cut at the end of camp and signed onto the Saints’ practice squad before being added to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 53-man roster.
“We were looking at trying to find a way to maybe get (McCaffrey) on our practice squad. And I kept seeing this Hill. I’m sure they played quite a bit together on the field at the same time in the preseason,” Payton explained to Wisconsin State-Journal writer Jason Wilde.
“I called (assistant GM Jeff) Ireland in, and we just kept watching the film and studied Max and then began studying Taysom. In a very short amount of time, I imagine, you began to see some quick stroke, live arm, very athletic and can run. A lot of the traits you’re looking for.”
“The more film we just kept watching, the more we kept looking to find a reason not to (claim him) and we just trusted out instincts watching him play.”
Could Mike McCarthy and the Packers’ loss become Payton and the Saints’ gain?
That question no doubt will be answered in due time.
Payton told reporters several weeks back prior to the start of OTA’s, that he felt Hill could possibly even become the #2 quarterback this season (over current #2 QB Tom Savage), but cautioned that it’s way too early to make any predictions: “I’m not saying that, but I’m not saying that he can’t be.”
Payton then added that he wants to see Hill compete, and to see if he can earn that position.
And not just on Special Teams, where Hill famously played last season and made some impressive plays as a tackler in punt and kickoff coverage.
But as an honest-to-goodness LEGITIMATE quarterback in the National Football League.
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One thing for Saints fans to keep in mind (and what’s likely to actually work in Hill’s favor) is that he is being mentored by a future Hall of Fame QB in Brees; and being schooled on how to play the position by Payton, who once upon a time was a NFL quarterback (albeit a very brief period of time for a few games as a “replacement” player during the 1987 season, while the regular NFL players were on strike) himself.
Among the notable names of current or former NFL QB’s that Payton has helped to develop or provide guidance to before they became NFL stars: former New York Giants QB Kerry Collins (who Payton helped get to a Super Bowl following the 2000 NFL season), recently-retired Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo, and of course Brees — whom he took a gamble on in 2006 NFL Free Agency, after the San Diego Chargers released him with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that he had suffered in the 2005 season finale.
Payton turned every one of those players into star NFL QB’s (although Collins quickly faded into oblivion and eventually became a local politician in his native state of North Carolina), and so it would be unwise to assume that he couldn’t pull it off yet once again, with Hill.
Suffice it to say, it’s expected that Hill will be given every opportunity to compete for (and win) the #2 job behind Brees.
Whether he can actually pull it off, however, is something that each of us will have to wait and see unfold as it takes place.
Nevertheless, you can go ahead and believe it: Taysom Hill is much more than just a “project” for this upcoming season, for the New Orleans Saints!