Saints 2020 Year-in-Review: Taysom Hill

Taysom Hill's versatility within the New Orleans offense can't be questioned.  After a small sample size in 2020, will be be in the mix to replace Drew Brees at quarterback next season?
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The Green Bay Packers added an undrafted rookie quarterback from BYU named Taysom Hill in 2017. Despite some impressive moments during the preseason, Hill was among Green Bay's last cuts before the season began. He was quickly snatched off waivers by the New Orleans Saints, who loved what they saw from him during the preseason.

Inactive for most of his rookie year, the athletic Hill saw action on special teams near the end of that season. Intrigued by his athleticism, New Orleans coach Sean Payton devised ways to involve Hill into his offense during the 2017 offseason.

This strategy was not completely unique. The Miami Dolphins had success with converted quarterback Jim Jensen through the mid-1980s as a gadget player and on special teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers converted college quarterbacks Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El into successful NFL wideouts. Before that, Kordell Stewart was an explosive receiver his first two NFL seasons before taking the reins at quarterback for the Steelers. Before the Dolphins and Steelers, the concept was adopted by the Saints in the early 1980s, when they used Guido Merkens as a runner, receiver, kick returner, and punter. Merkens even led the Saints in receiving during the 1981 season.

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Saints Taysom Hill (7) against past Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo (34) during the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Saints Taysom Hill (7) against past Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo (34) during the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Hill embraced his ‘‘jack-of-all-trades’’ role, rushing for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2018 while completing 3 of 7 passing attempts, averaging 25 yards per kickoff return, and playing a key role on special teams. He showed a new facet to his game towards the end of that season, showcasing some receiving skills.

That receiving ability opened up more offensive opportunities for Hill in 2019. He caught 21 passes for 259 yards and 7 touchdowns that season while rushing for 206 yards and another score and completing 4 of 7 passes for 105 yards. Hill's only opportunities as a quarterback would come in preseason games in 2018 and 2019. He displayed excellent mobility and arm strength, but his accuracy and ability to read defenses were both a major question.

The Saints raised some eyebrows when they signed Hill to a two-year, $21 million dollar contract extension prior to the 2020 season. People who were wondering if Hill had a future as an NFL quarterback would get a small sample size of his potential, as we find out in today's Year-in-Review spotlight.

TAYSOM HILL

Nov 29, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Broncos outside linebacker Malik Reed (59) chases New Orleans quarterback Taysom Hill (7) at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY

Nov 29, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Broncos outside linebacker Malik Reed (59) chases New Orleans quarterback Taysom Hill (7) at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY

Hill was in on 17 offensive snaps in the team's season-opening win over Tampa Bay, accounting for 27 yards from scrimmage on four touches and setting up a score with a 38-Yd pass completion. New Orleans had a hard time getting their versatile weapon on track over the first portion of the season, despite several injuries to their receivers. Hill failed to reach the end zone and had just 56 yards from scrimmage in the year's first four games.

He scored his first touchdown of the season in a Week 5 win over the Chargers, a gutty 9-Yd rush in the game's final minute to send the contest into overtime. He was a bigger part of the game plan through mid-season, rushing for 134 yards and catching 3 passes for 51 yards over a three-week stretch in wins against Chicago, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco. Quarterback Drew Brees left the 49ers game with a serious rib injury, which would change Hill's role in the offense.

Nov 22, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) runs against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY

Nov 22, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) runs against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY

In a surprise move, Sean Payton tabbed Hill to be the starting quarterback in Brees' absence over the more experienced Jameis Winston. Hill would get his first career start at quarterback against division rival Atlanta in Week 11 and performed impressively. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards, showing good poise in the pocket and rushing for 49 yards and two scores in a 24-9 victory.

Hill wasn't as sharp in a Week 12 win at Denver, completing just 9 of 16 throws for 78 yards and an interception, but he ran for 44 yards and 2 touchdowns in a dominant New Orleans rushing performance. He played his best game in the Week 13 rematch at Atlanta, rushing for 83 yards and completing 27 of 37 passes for 232 and the first two passing touchdowns of his career.

Dec 13, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New Orleans quarterback Taysom Hill (7) passes the ball against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY

Dec 13, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New Orleans quarterback Taysom Hill (7) passes the ball against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY

Hill's inexperience was exposed in a Week 14 loss at Philadelphia. He threw for a career-high 291 yards, completing 28 of 38 attempts with 2 touchdowns and an interception, but was often indecisive and bottled up as a runner. Brees returned the following week, with Hill returning to his versatile role within the offense.

Through the last three games of the season, he caught 2 passes for 24 yards and rushed for 62 yards and three touchdowns. Hill injured his knee in the Wild Card victory over Chicago, an injury that kept him out of the following week's Divisional Playoff loss to the Buccaneers.

Taysom Hill helped fuel a New Orleans running game that ranked sixth in the league in 2020, rushing for a career-high 457 yards and 8 touchdowns. His role as a receiver decreased, catching 8 passes for 98 yards and a score. As a quarterback, he completed 72.7% of his attempts (88 of 121) for 928 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

His ball security was an issue. Hill fumbled 11 times this season, losing six, and he was often indecisive as a quarterback. That indecision contributed heavily to him getting sacked 13 times in his four starts. Brees was also sacked 13 times, but that was spread out over 12 games. Hill surprised most with his accuracy and ability to go through his progressions, but questions remain about who Brees' successor will be in 2021.

Nov 22, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) at the line against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 22, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) at the line against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Sean Payton has said that the next New Orleans quarterback is ‘‘in the building’’. Most assume he was talking about Winston, 27, who is an unrestricted free agent. The 30-Yr old Hill has one year remaining on his current deal and will count for $16.1 million against the salary cap this season. His value to the New Orleans offense as a physical runner and gadget weapon is critical. Whether he is in the mix for the Saints' starting quarterback job is the major storyline surrounding the franchise as it heads into the offseason.