Taysom Hill’s electric performance against the Minnesota Vikings in the Saints’ gut-wrenching Wild Card loss Sunday was not only incredible to watch, but also created some uncertainty about what his future as a Saint looks like.
He’ll most likely be back with New Orleans next season, as he is a restricted free agent and won’t cost much. But is he a legit candidate to be a franchise QB, or is he merely a complimentary piece?
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Hill has occasionally shown shades of really good past players as a dual-threat quarterback, but he also couldn’t complete 60 percent of his passes at BYU and has attempted 13 NFL passes.
So what are we to make of him? I think his performance against the Vikings was a good example of what he can and shouldn’t be expected to do in years moving forward.
Shades of Cam Newton
Don’t overreact. I’m not saying Taysom Hill is Cam Newton, because he’s not. Hill is never going to win an MVP and might not even become a starting QB in the NFL, for all we know.
However, there definitely are some similarities between the two as runners of the football. And he put it on display Sunday, notching 125 total yards with 50 of them coming on four rush attempts.
Like Newton in the past, Hill’s most lethal threat has often been from QB Power plays.
Both possess a rare combination of speed and size, and use this combination to burst through holes in power running schemes, making safeties and corners pay at the second level.
Although Newton might not be quite as physical as he once was, due to injuries, he used to be quite the mismatch for opposing defenses.
Hill led the Saints in yards per carry at 5.8 yards a pop (on 25 carries) this year, due in large part to this play.
Newton, on the other hand, built an MVP campaign off of QB Power and the read option. In 2015, he rushed for 636 yards on 4.8 yards an attempt and scored 10 rushing touchdowns to add on to his already-impressive passing numbers.
Another distinct similarity between the two is the amount of their rushing yards that came on designed run plays, as opposed to scramble yards. Sixty-five percent of Newton’s 2015 rushing yards came on designed runs while nearly 90 percent of Hill’s yards in 2019 came on such runs.
They both ran the read-option a lot in college and the pros. The difference is Newton had about 20-30 pounds on Hill, so a lot of his reads were from the outside-in, meaning he’d attack inside or near the tackles on his keeps.
Hill, on the other hand, usually reads inside-out and tries to get to the edge, utilizing his 4.44 speed.
Yet both use the read-option as a fake for their designed QB keepers.
This looks like a typical read-option, but it really is a QB keeper all the way. Josh Hill runs across the formation at the snap to clear out the weak-side linebacker, and Ryan Ramczyk initially acts like he’s squeezing down on the defensive tackle, but whips out last second to kick out the defensive end.
This gives Hill just enough room to run through for the first down.
Newton fakes the read-option here, and leads the “read” defensive end right into the pulling guard’s block, so he can run inside of him for a huge gain.
All of this run action with the quarterback sometimes forces the defense to add an extra man in the box on early downs, creating one-high safety looks like this:
And resulting in big plays from said looks, like this:
Now, there are some drawbacks to this style of play. Don’t get these bruisers confused with a guy like Lamar Jackson, who should (knock on wood) be able to have a long career despite being a running quarterback, due to his ability to avoid big hits with his ridiculous elusiveness.
Hill and Newton are different. They invite more contact, and we’ve seen how that has affected the longevity of Newton’s career, as he’s been nagged with injuries for quite some time now.
While Newton was able to prolong his prime for a while due to his adequate passing abilities, we haven’t seen enough from Hill to be sure if he can be a reliable pocket passer.
Despite his speed, Hill is the definition of a power runner who loves contact. As a guy who will be 30 years old at the start of next season with a long list of injuries dating back to his college career, the Saints’ front office has to take this into account.
When considering whether or not Hill can be a starting-caliber NFL QB, it’s important to understand how he’s currently being used within Sean Payton’s offense.
Yes, he’s been largely effective when he gets the ball in his hands. However, he’s mostly used in favorable situations. Payton never puts Hill in behind the sticks.
Almost all of his 2019 snaps have come on third/fourth and short or early down situations, only seeing two snaps on third down that were longer than three yards from the sticks.
Against the Vikings, Hill played five snaps at QB, with four coming on early downs and one on a third and five.
With all this being said, I think the Saints should try to hold onto Hill if they can, and use him as a part-time Cam Newton, per se.
After all, Newton’s pit falls usually came as a passer when he got too dinged up to run effectively, or when he was forced to throw on obvious passing downs.
If Sean Payton can keep Hill healthy and in advantageous down and distances, not exposing him to obvious passing downs, I believe Hill has shown enough to earn a spot as a backup quarterback.
This would give him a chance to continue being the Swiss-Army knife that he is, while potentially having the opportunity to do what Teddy Bridgewater did this season if Brees goes down again, assuming Bridgewater isn’t still in New Orleans.
Considering the amount of roster spots Hill saves the Saints by being so versatile, and his lack of experience as a full-time quarterback, I feel like this is the most mutually beneficial and likely option for both parties.