Is It Time for the Saints to End "The Taysom Hill Project"?
Taysom Hill entered the NFL with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted quarterback from Brigham Young University in 2017. Despite a promising preseason, Hill was among Green Bay's last cuts, where he would then sign with the New Orleans Saints. Since then, he has become a cult hero among Saints fans because of his versatility and high-effort style. As a rookie in 2017, Hill saw little action offensively but would appear in five games on special teams.
New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, one of the league's best offensive innovators, recognized Hill's athleticism and would incorporate him into their offense in 2018. Hill would rush for 137 yards in 2018, scoring 2 touchdowns and averaging 5.3 yards per run, while picking up 16 first downs on his 37 rush attempts. He also completed 3 of 7 pass attempts for 64 yards on various trick plays.
Hill also blocked a punt during the 2018 season, played a bigger role on the kick coverage units, and became the team's primary kickoff returner, averaging 24.9 yards per kick return. He did not catch a pass during either the 2017 or 2018 regular seasons, but a 2-Yd touchdown reception in the NFC Championship Game would lead to another facet of Hill's game the following year.
Hill had fewer rushing attempts in 2019, attempting 27 rushes for 156 yards while scoring once and picking up ten 1st downs. He attempted six passes during the season, completing three for 55 yards. He increased his value to the offense by improving as a receiver, catching 19 of 22 targets for 234 yards and 6 touchdowns and picking up a first down on 14 receptions.
Hill had an outstanding outing in the team's first-round playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings, nearly carrying the Saints to victory. He had 4 rushes for 50 yards in that game, added 2 receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown, completed one pass for 50 yards, and accounted for six first downs. That amazing postseason effort would overshadow some concerning things about Hill's involvement in the offense that became evident down the stretch of the year. Those difficulties have been very visible during the early portion of the 2020 season.
The Saints offense has become limited and predictable when Taysom Hill is on the field, and opposing defenses have adjusted to his presence-especially when he lines up at the quarterback position. Hill has rushed 13 times for just 46 yards in five games so far, caught 3 passes for 23 yards, and completed 1 of 2 throws for 38 yards. He scored the game-tying touchdown on a gritty 9-yard run against the Chargers but has mostly been ineffective all season.
Opposing defenses have recognized that Taysom Hill is nothing more than a gimmick player for the New Orleans offense. Sean Payton has often lined him up at quarterback in 3rd down situations, but with disastrous results. Defenses stack the line of scrimmage when Hill is quarterback, realizing there is little passing threat. The extra defenders in the box have clogged running lanes, rendering the read-option where Hill is most effectively useless.
Those alignments have also moved Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees to an outside wideout position, meaning that the Saints offense is essentially attacking defenses 10-on-11. Lining up Hill behind center has also killed the momentum that the New Orleans offense has built up in several moments this season, and Payton himself has criticized his own play-calling.
Despite his 2-year, $21M contract extension signed this offseason, New Orleans should consider revising or abandoning "The Taysom Hill Experiment." He isn't a viable passing threat, which should also dispel the notion he is the ‘‘heir apparent’’ to Brees at quarterback. Hill still has value to the Saints’ offense. They can use his receiving skills in an H-back role, where he can get a free release off the line of scrimmage into his routes.
His running ability can still be utilized, perhaps most effectively, as a side-car to Brees alongside Alvin Kamara in the shotgun formation. He is also a valuable player on special teams, where his athleticism is used on the punt block unit and threatens opponents with a possible fake punt as the up-back in front of Thomas Morstead.
The New Orleans Saints have some of the finest offensive weapons in the NFL. WR Michael Thomas, RB Alvin Kamara, and TE Jared Cook are all among the best at their respective positions for the Saints. Simultaneously, WR Emmanuel Sanders and RB Latavius Murray are becoming lethal complementary weapons for the offense.
Head Coach Sean Payton is one of the league's best offensive minds. But he needs to set aside his stubborn insistence to force Taysom Hill into an offensive role and use him where he can best complement the Saints’ other weapons, instead of a tool that could derail his team's championship hopes.