Tom Brady. Drew Brees. Philip Rivers. Taysom Hill.
Wait, what? Yes, in what is shaping up to be one of the most impressive groups of free agent quarterbacks in NFL history, we’re here to talk about Hill.
I see Taysom Hill trending. He told me Super Bowl week: “I definitely view myself as a franchise QB. .. If New Orleans don’t view me that way then I have to leave.” Also he loves playing with Drew Brees, hopes to continue doing so. Full interview: https://t.co/CZvuLzPHyQ pic.twitter.com/KQLpsWuYAH
— Rob Maaddi (@RobMaaddi) February 10, 2020
It’s still uncertain if the Saints will bring him back or if he’ll go to another team. Hill is a restricted free agent, which means the Saints can match any offers he agrees to, or they are eligible to receive a draft pick equal to the round of they tender him at from his new team. Recently, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton raised eyebrows when he talked to Peter King as though Hill were someone a team is prepared to sacrifice a first-round pick to sign.
My initial thought upon reading that was that Hill is being extremely overvalued. This is a guy who attempted a single pass when Brees missed five games due to injury this past season!
But, to be honest, I didn’t really know that much about Hill beyond the occasional big play he got as a gadget player in Payton’s offense. So, what has Hill actually done when asked to pass? Let’s dive in.
Hill’s limited passing doesn’t inspire much confidence
Since entering the league in 2017, Hill has completed just 6 of 13 pass attempts for 119 yards and an interception in the regular season. In five playoff games, he’s completed one pass (on two attempts) for 50 yards. Hill has passed more in the preseason, but you can throw that out the window because it’s … well, the preseason.
That’s a small sample size, but it also doesn’t scream “franchise quarterback.”
So I went back to the film and checked every attempt to see if the situation told us anything about Hill’s ability, or lack thereof.
One thing is immediately clear: Hill has a big arm. He tends to throw with a lot of power, but he also tends to lose control with overthrows or high passes. A 2018 game against the Eagles included one such pass:
This play is somewhat unique in that it was a pretty straightforward passing play, where Hill dropped back and actually read the field. Usually, Hill has one main option and he’s lugging the football down the field toward that player.
Here, though, he had a couple receivers downfield while Brees, split out wide, obviously wasn’t running any routes. Hill elected to throw it to his more underneath option, but it was way too high, resulting in an incompletion.
That play isn’t how most of them shake out, however. They’re more like this:
Hill goes deep a lot, and rarely is he accurate throwing bombs. He relies on defenses beating themselves. Here, Ted Ginn Jr. had a step on his man, but Hill didn’t put enough behind the ball and it fell behind the receiver, where it was easily picked off by the Steelers defender.
That was Hill’s lone interception in the NFL, though he’s had multiple deep balls that could easily have been picked. He often heaved it downfield with very little regard for the coverage.
Take this next example against the 49ers:
First thing: that’s not pass interference because this was a fake punt. Contact downfield is treated differently on punts, something Hill should be aware of. That didn’t stop him from launching this pass downfield regardless.
I’m not even sure if the 49ers’ defender there even knew there was a fake happening, but I do know that there’s no reason for Hill to throw that pass.
Let’s look at some of Hill’s completions next.
This was one of Hill’s first highlights in the NFL, which came against the Vikings in Week 8 of the 2018 season: a bomb against busted coverage. While it ended with a catch, it could have been disastrous if Hill hadn’t been throwing to a receiver of Michael Thomas’ caliber.
That pass was pretty badly underthrown. A good pass there is a touchdown, and a terrible one is an interception. Instead, it was just a mediocre pass with a good result. That’s been a running theme with Hill, I’ve found.
Let’s stick with the Vikings, but jump forward to the Wild Card Round of this year’s playoffs. Hill had a career-long 50-yard completion in that game:
Again, the Vikings’ defense beat themselves and again, Hill threw a so-so deep ball. His receiver, Deonte Harris, had to slow down considerably, backpedaling to catch the pass behind him. That nearly allowed the defense to catch up and make a play on the ball. It felt like Hill got away with something rather than making a big play.
This all isn’t to say that Hill has never thrown a good pass. If you peep this video of all of his throws in the league (it takes under three minutes to view them all!) he had a very good one against the Falcons, and he hit his man over the middle on broken coverage against the Buccaneers.
But a couple good passes don’t make a great quarterback. That’s especially true when defenses are spending the week preparing for Brees, an immobile quarterback who can shred defenses. In the NFL, Hill has never been “the” quarterback; he’s been a weapon defenses have to account for, but his passing falls closer under “trick plays” than anything else.
Part of what makes Hill an effective weapon is that lack of preparation by the defense. He catches them in bad situations. But as illustrated by some of the throws above, even when defenses are caught napping, Hill hasn’t always delivered. And when he technically has, the plays were often right on the edge of going the other way.
The question is: if Hill’s so valuable at quarterback, why hasn’t he, y’know, played more quarterback?
Hill DOES have value. He’s proven that he can be dangerous running the ball, catching the ball, returning kicks and even, occasionally, throwing it. He has nine touchdowns rushing and receiving over the past two seasons. In the Saints’ most recent playoff game against the Vikings, he rushed four times for 50 yards, caught two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown, threw the 50-yard pass, and played 27 snaps on special teams.
He’s a Swiss Army knife, and that’s fine! But that’s not what a starting quarterback does.
Payton has tried to talk Hill up as a potential starter. Rather than listen to Payton’s words, though, you should pay attention to his actions.
The Saints already had Hill under contract when they went out and traded for Teddy Bridgewater in 2018. They still had Hill when they re-signed Bridgewater to a one-year, $7.25 million contract in 2019. That’s about how much you should pay a top backup. If Hill is a great backup earning peanuts — under $1 million for each of the past three seasons — why would they have brought in someone like Bridgewater?
Further, if Payton is so high on Hill, why didn’t Hill get any significant snaps under center while Brees was out for five weeks? Bridgewater started all of those games, while Hill attempted just one pass.
All of the Saints’ quarterbacks are currently set to hit free agency, which the team knew would be the case all season. Still, Payton didn’t give Hill a longer look at quarterback. The Saints didn’t see if Hill, who will be 30 before next season and is more than two years older than Bridgewater, had the potential to be Brees’ successor at any point.
And yet we’re supposed to believe that Hill is a franchise quarterback. I’ll buy that Hill is more valuable as a gadget player than some would give him credit for, but beyond that, I just don’t see it.
There isn’t enough NFL film of Hill throwing to definitively say he can’t start in the NFL, but there’s even less that says he can. Add in the circumstantial evidence surrounding the Saints’ actions, plus his age and everyday common sense, and it’s easy to conclude one thing: Hill probably isn’t a starting quarterback in the NFL. It’s that simple.