Look, it’s the first ridiculous discussion of the offseason. Make a wish!
The aimless attention of NFL Twitter has landed on New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill as ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler indicated that head coach Sean Payton is secretly intrigued by the idea of starting his gadget QB/RB/TE/WR/KR/whatever as a full-time signal-caller should incumbent veteran Drew Brees retire.
Hill enjoyed his most impactful season in 2019, with eight touchdowns from scrimmage as a runner (one) and receiver (seven), including four receiving touchdowns in his last six games. Of course, these stats would mean more if Hill were being discussed as a full-time wide receiver but he's not. He's being discussed as a quarterback, and he's on record as saying that he expects to eventually be a full-time QB, either in New Orleans or elsewhere.
But is it reasonable to expect Hill to step into that full-time role when, across the course of his career, he's 13 for 22 for 184 yards and only one touchdown to one interception as a passer?
Oh, wait. Sorry. Those are the career passing numbers of Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker.
Hill is 6 for 13 for 119 yards, no touchdowns and a pick. So, you know, worse than the Rams punter.
Understanding Hill as a full-time passer for the Saints requires a fundamental shift of Payton's offense. With Brees, who is the actual archetype for pocket passing among active QBs, New Orleans' route distribution and offensive philosophy are based around the tenants of timing, option routes and pre-snap reads. If Brees even sniffs pressure, let alone any sort of passing attempt outside of the pocket, the offense has failed dramatically and is operating outside of its winning structure.
With Hill at quarterback, everything changes.
Some people may disagree. I know this because when Hill was the quarterback at BYU for five years, two of those seasons (more on that later) he ran for 246 yards on 137 attempts — that was over 15 attempts per game. The Cougars embraced a zone-read running attack that gave Hill the option to pull the football on a vast majority of rushing attempts because one of Hill's greatest assets at the college level was his legs.
That hasn't changed at the NFL, and again, I know this because he has run the ball (26 attempts) more than he has passed (13 attempts). He runs routes and chases down returners as a special-team player. The Saints value his speed, at his size, far more than they value his arm as a passer, and again, I’m absolutely positive of this because it's what they've asked him to do. Were Hill to become the quarterback of the Saints, they would become a very heavy QB-run team.
And the Saints should value Hill in this way.
Athletically, Hill compares favorably to quality receivers. At the same height and weight as Dez Bryant (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), Hill ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.44 seconds versus 4.52 seconds), a faster short shuttle (4.38 seconds versus 4.48 seconds), an equivalent vertical jump (38.5 inch to 38 inch) and a worse broad jump (122 inch to 133 inch). Accordingly to Mockdraftable, Bryant's best athletic comparisons include Hakeem Nicks, Eric Reid, Xavier Rhodes and Adrian Peterson.
Hill is a wild athlete, and the Saints used him like a wild athlete. They used him like a wild athlete despite the fact that Hill lost essentially half of his college availability to injury. If Hill were viewed as the QB of the future, he would not have been tasked with running seam routes or chasing down blocks or ramming home QB power in short-yardage situations. You would not put a fragile body at greater risk if that fragile body represented the future of the most important position on your team. This is why all of the Steve Young comparisons — yes, those Steve Young comparisons actually happened — are wildly out of calibration. Yes, Young was a very athletic quarterback out of BYU, but would you ever have Young covering punts?
It is not ludicrous to suggest the Saints could run an offense behind Hill and win a few games — it would simply require a wholesale change of the structure of the team. Michael Thomas would become a vestigial money pit that would be traded for peanuts. The Saints would need a new tight end that could block — bye Jared Cook! — and a fullback or two as well. Their formula would follow that of the Baltimore Ravens, just with a way worse passer and a far less natural runner.
As I said: win a few games.
But to suggest that Hill can step into Brees' shoes is simply wrong, and anyone doing so embraces fallacy and fantasy. Tread lightly through these offseason waters, my friends.