Who Has The Edge In Saints' QB Competition?

Photo: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints QB COMPETITION: Jameis Winston vs. Taysom Hill

There were bound to be headlines down in New Orleans with Drew Brees no longer being the starting quarterback for the Saints. Brees had been the Saints’ quarterback for 15 seasons, so no matter who was coming in line behind him, it was going to be a big change.

That’s where our training camp battle is going to focus on today, because it turns out there’s quite the quarterback competition brewing for the Saints between two totally different passers.

The two players who are competing for the Saints’ QB1 job are Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill.

Winston is a former national champion, a former Heisman Trophy winner, and a former No. 1 overall pick. He spent five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he put up some crazy numbers. The reason Winston is no longer in Tampa Bay is because those crazy numbers were both good and bad. 

Winston was a passing yardage machine, leading the NFL in passing yards in 2019 with 5,109 yards. But that was also the infamous 30-and-30 season where Winston threw 33 touchdowns but also 30 interceptions. Winston’s inability to project the ball gave the Buccaneers reservations about a big second contract—and, of course, it didn’t hurt that Tom Brady was available and wanted to come to Tampa.

As for Hill, his path came with less spotlight. He almost went to Stanford to play for Jim Harbaugh but ended up committing to BYU. He started his career as the backup quarterback for the Cougars, coming in during short-yardage situations where he could be more of a runner. Hill was BYU’s starter for the next four years, but injuries limited his time on the field. He went undrafted in 2017, and after being signed by the Packers initially, Hill was cut before the regular season and picked up by the Saints. Since then, he’s grown to be a special teams starter, a utility player on offense, and even now a quarterback in competition to be the Week 1 starter.

Winston and Hill come from very different backgrounds as quarterbacks, and as they compete against one another, they are doing so with completely different styles. Hill actually started four games at quarterback for the Saints last season (starts in which he was the main quarterback for the entire game). The Saints went 3-1 in that four-game stretch, but it was clear that when asked to be a true drop-back passer, Hill was not as natural as he was when used as a dual-threat player.

As of right now, reports are raving about Winston’s command of the offense and how he can give the Saints that big-play passing ability deep down the field. All things being equal, Winston should win the Saints’ starting job. If Winston is the starting quarterback, Hill can still be used plenty as that utility offensive weapon. But if it’s Hill and not Winston, the Saints won’t really be able to get anything out of Winston’s arm.

The conversion between these two remains what we thought it would be initially: if Winston shows he can keep the turnovers down, it should be his job. In a passing league, Hill simply is not the kind of quarterback who can consistently be called upon to win games and complete long drives with his arm.

From Winston’s own account, it sounds like he’s in the best place he’s ever been in terms of how he approaches the game mentally.

"Every year I get a chance to do a self-scout of myself,” Winston said. “But this year I had so many people to scout. I mean, we had Tom Brady playing in an offense that I played in the year before. We had Matt Ryan playing in an offense with Dirk Koetter (former Buccaneers coach) in Atlanta. We had Drew Brees playing in this offense. And then we had Teddy (Bridgewater) playing in [a version of] Sean's offense in Carolina.

"I was able to watch four great quarterbacks execute in those systems. So I was able to take some things from them. I was able to take some things that I learned from my experience in those offenses, and obviously this newer offense with Sean.”

Hill has reportedly come into camp this year knowing that he’s competing for a quarterback job rather than a role as a potential running back and tight end. For as much as Hill didn’t seem to be a threat throwing the ball deep down the field last year, he completed more than 70% of his passes in those four games he started.

This quarterback battle really comes down to a style preference and where head coach Sean Payton believes he can get the most out of his offense. If it’s more deep shots, Winston will likely be their guy. But if he wants to keep the defense guessing all day, Hill could actually end up being the choice. 

Time will tell.