For the time being, all signs in New Orleans are pointing to Jameis Winston starting at quarterback for the Saints. Sean Payton has been bullish on him, the Saints are bringing him back on a one-year deal this season, and Taysom Hill didn’t exactly put the lights out in his starts last year despite going 3-1 as a starter for the Saints. One of those wins came against a replacement-level quarterback (not to take anything away from Kendall Hinton, who was put in an impossible situation), while the other two came against the Falcons.
With that being said, no one has truly committed to Winston starting next season. He’s the presumed starter, sure, but last season when Drew Brees was injured it was common thought that Winston would be starting in his place. So, what does the New Orleans Saints season look like in 2021 if Payton and the Saints throw another curveball and Hill ends up starting?
The first thing you can guarantee is that the Saints offense will not be like any other in the league. Even the Baltimore Ravens’ offense which his built around Lamar Jackson bootlegs to the outside. Payton has shown time and time again that he knows that Hill can take a beating, and he will run him between the tackles. While coaches generally protect their starting quarterbacks, Payton doesn’t look risk averse with Hill on the field.
The Saints will have to run an offense based around holding the ball. The average time of possession for the Saints in 2020 was 32:10. In Hill’s three wins, their lowest TOP was 33:41 (against the Falcons). With that in mind, expect a lot of power running from the Saints, and a focus between the tackles.
The domino effect there is more carries for Latavius Murray. Payton has gotten more and more enamored with Alvin Kamara in the passing game, and despite Kamara’s undoubtable ability to run between the tackles, Hill will need Kamara on the field to pass. Michael Thomas can’t shoulder the whole load of receptions for the Saints, and Adam Trautman is a total unknown.
Which leads to another domino: If Hill is playing quarterback, the Saints absolutely have to pick up another tight end. Hill has become a mainstay on the line for the Saints in recent seasons, and if Winston starts don’t expect that to change. However, with Trautman being a big question mark for the Saints right now, they could use another body up front. While that situation wouldn’t be ideal, the fact is Jared Cook had a good share of snaps for the Saints in 2020, and those won’t be easy to replace.
Ultimately, Hill’s success would be determined by how well he’s schemed around. If Hill starts, it will be because Payton thinks he’s more conducive to a creative offense, and he wants to work with that. Hill’s sweet spot would be between 20 and 25 pass attempts, offset by 10-15 rushing attempts. He’ll have to learn to read defenses better and get more comfortable and decisive in the RPO offense to be successful, otherwise Winston would be starting by Week 4.
While all of this is hypothetical, it’s far from impossible. The Saints have been surprising in the past, and Payton has shown time and time again he’s going to get the absolute most out of the Hill experiment. The cascading effect it would have could prove too complicated, and there would be a lot of jostling around from the Saints, but Payton has worked with less. Ultimately, it’s best to see what the Saints have with Winston. But there are ways to make Hill work for the Saints’ offense.