This is the question many New Orleans Saints fans have been asking themselves.
Do Sean Payton and the Saints front office really think Taysom Hill is the answer once Drew Brees decides to hang it up for good? Considering they valued him enough to place a first-round tender on him, it’s a viable question. But there’s no real way of knowing without getting inside their heads.
Instead of trying to figure out whether or not Hill will be the quarterback in the Big Easy for the foreseeable future, let’s examine whether or not he should be.
However, to be a franchise QB in today’s NFL means to have the ability to stretch the ball downfield in the passing game with consistent timing, accuracy and anticipation on throws.
To see just how well he’s fared in the passing game in his limited opportunities, I did my best Nick Underhill impression and watched every single one of Hill’s NFL dropbacks, including the preseason, regular season and postseason. Here’s what I found:
-Unsurprisingly, he can make plays outside of the pocket
Whether it be on play action bootlegs, roll-outs or even straight dropbacks, Taysom Hill can get to the edge and out-run linebackers at the second level.
As much as the preseason must be taken with a grain of salt due to the vanilla defenses and lack of true NFL talent on the field, it actually was a decent indicator of how a Taysom-led offense would look like, schematically. The answer: A lot of roll-outs.
And this makes a ton of sense. Utilize Hill’s athleticism by getting him out on the perimeter and limit the amount of field he has to read. If it isn’t there downfield, just take off. This showed up on tape quite frequently.
He regularly out-maneuvered unblocked edge defenders and found quick-developing out/flat patterns on the move, if he wasn’t already taking off.
What Payton likes to do is get Hill on a roll-out with a slide route underneath (flat route coming from opposite side of formation).
This basically gives the backside edge defender an ultimatum; He can blow up the slide route, like in the graphic above, giving Hill a running lane, or he can just run with Hill. If he runs with Hill, he’ll likely get beaten to the edge anyways, or Hill can just dump it off over his head.
These plays often led to positive gains, as Hill executed the simple concept to a tee.
Not to mention, Hill can shred you from the straight drop-back passing game as a scrambler, if you don’t account for him. A defense can have every route covered perfectly and look up while Hill is running for a first down.
Over the past three preseasons, he racked up 308 rushing yards off of scrambles.
-Capable of executing simple drop-back concepts, showed glimpses of reading both sides of field.
This is where Hill improved from 2018 to 2019 in the preseason. Against basic coverages, he executed the concepts you run about 20 times a game in Madden at a decent level. These would include passing plays like stick, curl-flat, slant-flat, mesh, post-wheel, etc.
When he’s just reading one defender, he can make positive plays through the air.
Take these two plays for example:
The Saints are running a curl-flat concept, with a deep hitch route accompanied by a quick flat pattern. This is a simple horizontal stretch of the flat defender in zone coverage.
You can see Hill reading #48 here to decide whether he’ll throw the flat or the curl.
He makes an okay decision here, taking the first completion he sees. He’s following Brees’s favorite adage, “You can’t go broke making a profit.”
He notices the flat defender isn’t at or past the numbers yet, and hits the quick out. The flat defender actually opens his hips towards the sideline to where Hill could’ve come back to the curl (in hindsight it’s probably a good thing he didn’t because the receiver fell down), but this is fine. What’s important here is what he learned from this play, and how he utilized it later on in the game.
Here’s the next time they ran the same concept later on in the game:
It may not look like it, but this is one of the most encouraging plays of Hill’s preseason. On the previous play, he took the first completion he saw, but on this one he baited the flat defender by initially staring down the running back on the flat pattern.
He then comes back to the curl for a good gain on second-and-long.
This is a good rep. The use of eyes to manipulate a zone defender is impressive for a guy with such a low level of snaps under his belt, and it’s possible this is an area Brees has helped him grow in.
This was just a glimpse, but there are plenty of examples of Hill reading the leverage of defenders and making 1-to-2 reads on passing concepts like this. If he could expand on this ability, it would make him so much more dangerous, as he could slash defenses who load the box to stop the run.
-Misses too many expected throws
These are the throws you don’t even think about with Drew Brees, or even Teddy Bridgewater, under center. Screens, flat routes, hitches, flare routes and check-downs are the boring passes that get overlooked when it comes to QB play, but being able to hit these without thinking about it is an integral part of playing the position. And Hill misses on way too many of them.
A lot of them are pretty inexplicable. He’ll have plenty of time to process what’s going on, with time to step into the throw, and the placement just isn’t there.
Whether it’s low on an out route, high on a curl or behind on a crossing route, there are too many displays of inaccuracy on tape right now to feel super confident in his ability to anchor a passing offense. It showed up on straight dropbacks, roll-outs, as well as plays he was escaping from pressure.
I’m not sure this is something you can really teach out of him. Given his age and the fact that a quarterback’s accuracy is what it is more times than not, this is an aspect of Hill’s game Sean Payton is likely going to have to live with if he values his athleticism enough to stick with him.
-Turnovers, small hands
This is a big issue. Payton does not put up with giving the ball away, and Hill has not been very safe with the pigskin in his limited opportunities to run the offense in the preseason. This was mainly an issue in the disastrous Week 2 performance against the Cardinals in the 2018 preseason, where his small hands came into play.
Hill fumbled a whopping three times—in the dome—and they were all pretty ugly. It looked like he straight up had the yips upon first glance, dropping the ball for little-to-no reason before hand-offs. But considering his hand size, some of the inexplicable drops make a bit more sense.
#Saints QB Taysom Hill has had issues with the football tonight. Silly as it might sound, hand size could be a factor here.— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) August 18, 2018
Average hand size for NFL QB: 9.6 inches
Hill's hand size: 8 3/4
Drew Brees' hand size: 10 1/4
More info on QB hand size:https://t.co/jeDhmEEoYS
Not only was Hill fumbling the ball left and right, but he made some ugly decisions in the passing game, as well. Not all of them showed up in the box score, as he only threw three picks in addition to seven touchdown passes in his three years of preseason experience.
Yet there were a few balls that got charted as incomplete that easily could’ve been going the other way.
Plays like the one above are a product of him being a tick late on throws, as well as pre-determining who he’s throwing to without fully understanding defender-positioning and alignment.
If we’re being honest, all quarterbacks have plays where they pre-determine who they’re throwing to. It’s not always a bad thing. You just have to understand how the defense will react post-snap to take that calculated gamble. Hill has some work to do in that department before he starts taking risks like that.
The more concerning thing to me is the slow-processing, and I think that’s why you see him late on a lot of throws. We saw the big play against Minnesota in the playoffs (even that one was a tick late and underthrown), but the pick he threw against the Steelers in Week 16 of 2018 was the same type of play, and he waited an extra beat longer than he needed to, giving the safety time to recover and pick it off.
So, he can hit on those big plays downfield, but not consistently. And there is too small a sample size to glean many other positives from.
One thing I will say for certain about Hill is he’s one of the only reasons to get excited about preseason football. He is at his essence an electric player, whether that be in a good or bad way. He keeps your eyes glued to the TV if he’s taking off for a huge gain or if he’s chucking a ball up to a receiver with no separation.
The entertainment aspect of the BYU-product is undeniable, but the question is how undeniable his value is to a team. In many ways, I think Sean Payton has done just a masterful job of deploying him as a weapon in the Saints’ offense, because while I’m not convinced if he’s qualified to be a full-time starter, he’s at the very least a part-time playmaker.
When put in advantageous situations, he can succeed and bring value to an offense. But put him in an obvious passing down on third-and-long, and that’s where things will go downhill.
In short, where I stand on Hill is that if he were younger and didn’t have such a long injury sheet, I might be in. However, as it currently stands, it’s tough to sell me on the soon-to-be 30-year-old with the deficiencies he currently possesses as a passer.
Luckily, we have another season to see what he can do. But if there’s a QB prospect in the upcoming draft Payton and the front office like, they’d be remiss not to heavily consider taking him. While Hill has shown some improvements in the limited amount of pass reps we’ve seen him display, there’s no way he should keep them from thinking long-term.
We’ll see just how confident they are in Hill’s abilities to command the offense come the 2020 NFL Draft.