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Hot Heir: The Saints’ struggle to find a Drew Brees successor

The Saints appear to be on the right path, but what happens when No. 9 hangs it up?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, what a difference a week makes. After the first preseason game in Jacksonville many Who Dats were calling Taysom Hill the next franchise quarterback. Tom Savage wasn’t “any good” and we already know what he is capable of. And then Hill laid an egg, or put the ball on the ground twice and threw two interceptions. One could argue that the interceptions were on the wide receivers more so than Hill, but nonetheless a turnover is a turnover. While there are still two games for Hill to prove himself, it is becoming more apparent that the heir to Brees’ throne is not currently on this team.

It’s not for lack of trying though. In 2013, the Saints signed undrafted rookie free agent Ryan Griffin from hometown Tulane. Griffin had good traits coming out of college, but was unable beat out Luke McCown for the backup spot two seasons in a row and spent the majority of his two-year stay here on the practice squad. Griffin currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and will be backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick as he fills in for the suspended Jameis Winston.

The Saints next attempt was in the 2015 draft when they used a third-round pick on Garrett Grayson out of Colorado State. Grayson had an impressive college career, passing for 9,190 yards and throwing 64 touchdowns while only playing 10 games his first two seasons. He served as the team’s third-string quarterback during his rookie year behind McCown and later Matt Flynn after McCown was put on injured reserve.

Some of the knocks on Grayson coming out of college was his inability to process information and the offensive scheme he ran where he rarely had to progress past his first read. This didn’t take long to show on the field or in the quarterback room as he and Sean Payton admitted to Grayson having a difficult time mastering the offense and reciting the lengthy play calls. He was moved to the practice squad his second year but was cut in the offseason in 2017. Grayson currently plays for another division rival in Atlanta but has a slim chance of making the final 53.

Last year when the Saints drafted Marshon Lattimore with the 11th overall pick, they had their eye on Patrick Mahomes who was drafted one spot ahead of them by the Kansas City Chiefs. I would never trade the Lattimore pick, because he was a major reason the defense took such a step forward, but it will be interesting to see how Mahomes turns out. If the Saints’ staff had such a high grade on him, his play could be indicative of their ability to scout first round quarterbacks. They also met with and worked out many prospects ahead of the 2018 draft including Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and Mason Rudolph. Jackson was a name linked to the Saints a lot before the draft, but ultimately they went for a pass rusher in Marcus Davenport instead.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Now we have probably the most exciting and unlikely prospect in Taysom Hill. Hill had a rocky college career at BYU where he had a season-ending injury every year he played except 2013. After going undrafted in the 2017 draft, he was signed by the Packers and later released during final roster cuts. The next day the Saints claimed him off of waivers and would later promote him to the active roster against the Panthers.

This was Hill’s first chance to show off his athleticism when he played special teams, and notched two tackles and nearly blocked a punt. We got to see this athletic ability last week against Jacksonville once again, but this time from the quarterback position. It was a glimpse into what the offense could be with him under center. He showed off his speed gaining 52 rushing yards on scrambles and designed runs, as well as going an efficient 8-of-9 for 72 passing yards.

This past week against the Cardinals was a different story. If you can look past the two fumbles and two interceptions (you could argue one was on wide receiver Cam Meredith, who let the ball bounce off his hands into the air) he had a similar stat line to last week; 11-of-15 for 68 yards and 43 yards on the ground. Hill also looked sharp in the two-minute drill, where he made an impressive throw off his back foot, placing the ball between Dan Arnold and the sideline where only he could catch it.

A couple plays later, he showed good pocket awareness as he stepped up into the pocket while progressing through his reads before hitting Tre’Quan Smith over the middle. The drive ended two plays later when Hill didn’t sense the pressure coming from his blindside and was hit, forcing a fumble that the defense recovered.

Taysom Hill will have to prove himself to be more than a special teams player in the final two preseason games in order to win the backup quarterback spot. Savage isn’t awe-inspiring, but he has proven he can protect the ball (minus the one fumble against the Cardinals, but he did prevent the touchdown by knocking the ball out of the defensive lineman’s hands and Will Clapp recovers it) and can lead a scoring drive. J.T. Barrett may make it to the practice squad, but with the depth on this team he could miss the cut on that.

Unless Hill can come along quickly, the Saints will have to look elsewhere for Brees’ replacement. Teddy Bridgewater is a name that has been floating around, but already being without a first round pick in 2019 the Saint’s may not have enough capital to invest there. Bridgewater is also on a one-year contract and will most likely look to get paid this offseason, and with another year left on Brees’ contract, it wouldn’t make sense to pay him that much to sit on the bench for a year.

The 2019 quarterback class doesn’t look as promising as this year’s, plus the aforementioned lack of a first round pick could put the Saints in a bind, but maybe their guy could be there in the later rounds and give the Saints their “heir to the dome”.