After two games of starting Taysom Hill as the chief signal-caller, it’s no secret he isn’t the prolific passer New Orleans Saints fans have grown accustomed to in Drew Brees. In his first career start at quarterback, Hill threw for 233 yards with a 78.3% completion percentage and 70.4 QBR rating.
Before exiting the ninth game of the season, Brees had been averaging 244 yards per game with a 73.5% completion percentage and 81.1 QBR rating. At first, it appeared as though Hill was capable of producing at a similar rate, but last Sunday against the Denver Broncos, it appeared that the proverbial wheels fell off and our previously-soaring expectations of Hill had to be readjusted.
In his second start, Hill threw for only 78 yards with a 56.3% completion percentage and 33.6 QBR. Because of the unique quarterback situation for the Broncos, the game plan was intentionally run-heavy, but Hill showed hesitancy along with inaccuracy as he took three sacks for the second week in a row.
Outside of Brees, the most expensive skill position players on the Saints roster are Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Luckily for Hill, Thomas’s production with Hill has remained similar to his production with Brees this season. Albeit, Thomas’s production is down from his record-breaking 2019 season in every single statistical category.
The same can not be said for Kamara, however. Though his rushing stats were very similar whether Brees or Hill was at the helm, Kamara’s reception stats have fallen off a cliff. Since 2008, no quarterback has targeted running backs more than Brees. Saints fans got used to heavy production from pass-catching backs like Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, and most lately, Kamara.
Duel-threat quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, and now Hill utilize pass-catching running backs far less than players like Brees. If the only point is winning, perhaps this isn’t all that bad, but if some of the point is to get production worth what one paid for a player in their contract, this does not bode well for Kamara going forward.
Alvin Kamara was pace on to set single season RB records for receptions & receiving yards before Drew Brees got hurt. That's gone out the window with Taysom Hill.— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) November 30, 2020
In games 1-9 with Brees under center, Kamara had 67 receptions for 648 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 8.9 targets and 85.3 yards per game. In the past two games with Hill at the same position, Kamara had one reception for negative two yards and zero touchdowns while averaging 1.5 targets and negative one yard per game.
It’s not just that Hill isn’t targeting Kamara nearly as much as Brees. When he finally does, the Swiss Army knife quarterback is far less accurate causing Kamara’s catch rate percentage to fall from a previous average of 83% with Brees to 25% with Hill.
Part of the reason the Saints paid Kamara so handsomely was because he was more than just a bruising north/south running back like Derrick Henry. After all, Kamara was the first and only NFL player ever to rack up 500 yards both rushing and receiving in each of his first four seasons.
Another reason the Saints gave Kamara a lucrative extension was that he was so valuable in the red zone. Now, since Hill is poaching many of those touches and Latavius Murray is being featured more to compliment Hill’s skill set, another one of Kamara’s strengths is being wiped from the game plan.
In the Saints' first nine games, Alvin Kamara averaged nearly 9.5 high-value touches (receptions and carries inside the 10) per game. Over the last two games (which Taysom Hill has started), he has a combined three high-value touches.— Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen) November 30, 2020
While Kamara’s five-year extension, worth $75 million, appeared market-setting at the time, the way it’s structured, this contract is actually a four year contract worth closer to $40.3 million. The Saints can cut Kamara in 2024 with only a $3 million dead cap hit, and in 2025, when Kamara’s base salary will increase from $10.2 million to a whopping $22.4 million, he can be cut with no dead cap hit at all.
Kamara has a legitimate reason to be worried if the Saints do in fact plan on turning the keys of this offense over to Hill when Brees retires. Hopefully the state of things won’t negatively impact Kamara’s internal drive the rest of this season; but after four years of having his skill-set utilized perfectly, it must be frustrating for him to experience this precipitous drop in the fulfillment of his true potential as an all-around running back.
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