HALL-OF-FAME LEVEL? Saints Future Bright If Taysom’s Really the “Next” Steve Young

Photo Credits: New Orleans Saints and Steve Young on twitter.com

Picture it in your head for a moment. Two NFL quarterbacks, one still currently playing for the New Orleans Saints and the other one who’s been retired for the past 20 years, are being compared to one another.

Although they share ironic similarities such as each are (or used to be) incredible physically-gifted athletes and both attended the same college (BYU), their differences couldn’t be more obvious — since one is a Pro Football Hall-of-Fame “living legend” and 3-time World Champion — while the other has only completed 6 passes in his entire career so far.

Nevertheless, if we are to take head coach Sean Payton at his previous word and own personal observation, current Saints back-up QB Taysom Hill possesses the passing skills that potentially could make him the “next” Steve Young, which would mean that the Black and Gold’s future could be very bright after current starter Drew Brees retires.

However, since the soon-to-be 30-year old Hill has mostly served in a very specific role thus far as an “offensive weapon” for New Orleans as both a runner and wide receiver in their high-powered offensive attack, he hasn’t thrown the ball enough times yet in the passing game to accurately gauge (in the eyes of many NFL observers and analysts) just how good (or bad) he truly can be.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

The question now for many Saints fans who are dreading Brees’ inevitable and unavoidable retirement, is whether or not Hill is really good enough as a pure pocket-passer in the “classical sense” (specifically with regard to throwing mechanics and accuracy), to deserve such worthy and high praise.

No one doubts that Hill can still be successful operating at the helm of the Saints offense, not only because he’s blazing-quick if forced to scramble as a runner or that he has been mentored by Brees as a thrower for the past 3 seasons, but mainly because Payton is likely to alter the Saints’ offensive scheme slightly to “fit” Hill’s best strengths when both running and throwing the football (in a style that’s actually more similar to last year’s 2019 League MVP Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens).

While the comparison made by Payton of Hill to the now-retired 58-year old (and current ESPN analyst) Young has been heavily debated and even criticized by some, a handful of persons “in-the-know” behind the scenes (which include several of Hill’s teammates), have verified that he is more than capable of eventually becoming as good of a passer as the legendary former San Francisco 49ers star.

Hill has evolved during his brief tine in the NFL from first being a special teams “ace” mainly on punt and kickoff coverage, to a dynamic and versatile performer within the offense because of his elite-caliber athletic abilities as a runner and even a pass-catcher lined up in the slot at either wide receiver or tight end.

In 3 NFL seasons dating back to 2017, Hill has tallied 64 carries for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns in the running game. along with 22 receptions for 238 yards and 6 TD’s in the Saints receiving game.

But unfortunately due to his lack of playing time soley at quarterback, the “jury remains out” at the moment still in regard to his abilities to as a passer only, for a full entire 60-minute game.

The biggest “samples” thus far for Hill strictly as a passer, have been his up-and-down 2019 Preseason last year and his one big pass completion in the Wild-Card loss to Minnesota. In his only two years (2018 and 2019) recording stats as a QB only, Hill has completed just 6 out of 13 passing attempts, for ZERO TD’s and 1 interception

That said, it isn’t much of a secret that while Hill had a “decent” career as a QB back in college at Brigham Young University (and actually named after Steve Young’s great-great-great-grandfather), he didn’t exactly shatter any passing records either.

Yet in total fairness, his personal devotion to his religion (Hill is a practicing member of the Mormon faith just like Young) and then a series of nagging injuries a few years later after entering the college ranks, might have somewhat hindered his initial maturation and development as a thrower.

Hill was actually a Gatorade High School Player of the Year and a 1st-team all-state selection at the QB position in his native state of Idaho, back in 2009. Hill received a handful of scholarship offers from many big-named schools in the PAC-12 including Arizona, Washington State, and Stanford University — where he even had originally committed to play for then-Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh (who’s now at Michigan) — but then he decided to fulfill a two-year Mormon mission trip in Australia instead.

Hill then came home from Australia and decided to attend BYU, but by that time was nearly almost 21 years old, and around the same age when some college football stars have already entered into the NFL as rookies. Once he had finally established himself as the Cougars’ starting QB by his junior season, Hill’s career took a rather brief but uncertain turn for the worse.

Because of his natural instinct and tendency to frequently take off and run with the ball whenever he was pressured inside the pocket, Hill wound up getting hurt often; and ended up playing a grand total of five years while dealing with a whole entire slew of significant injuries (knee, broken fibula, foot fracture and an elbow strain).

Hill finished his college career in 2016, and ended up with a less-than-impressive stat-line solely as a passer (a 58.2 completion percentage) for 6,929 passing yards, along with 43 TD’s and 31 interceptions.

Hill went undrafted as a result, and signed with the Green Bay Packers as an UDFA not long after the conclusion of the 2017 NFL Draft. But as Saints fans are well aware, got cut by the Packers at the end of the 2017 Preseason, before Payton and the Saints picked him up immediately afterwards and placed him on the Practice Squad.

And as they say: “the rest is history”.

Nevertheless. with Brees’ pending retirement on the horizon. along with the recent off-season departure of Teddy Bridgewater and the subsequent signing / arrival of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Jameis Winston to the roster, many Who Dat fans have wondered what Hill’s future role at QB, will be moving forward.

Photo courtesy of New Orleans Saints on YouTube.com

But as it’s been well-documented in the past several weeks, Payton and the Saints remain steadfast that Hill will be the player who will ultimately get the #1 shot at securing that role, although he’ll remain mostly utilized in the running and receiving game this upcoming season during what’s likely expected to be Brees’ final year in the NFL.

“For those that aren’t sold, it’s probably because they haven’t seen enough of him in games and I can certainly understand that,” Payton said in a recent one-on-one conversation with beat writer Luke Johnson of the New Orleans Advocate.

“Now, that being said, we’ve seen hundreds of reps that weren’t necessarily regular season games and we’ve seen some of the things we feel he can do on a consistent basis. That’s often the case with any new player, new meaning that time comes where Taysom is transitioning into quarterback-only, people are excited or anxious to see, hey, how does this guy function down-in and down-out at that position?”

“We think he’s going to be an outstanding NFL quarterback. He’s a very good athlete. But I think that’s a normal reaction for any fan relative to someone that is getting ready to play that position and they haven’t had the same amount of snaps to look at.”

Make no mistake about this much: a fairly large and sizable portion of Saints fans — especially the ones who have seen their share of previous quarterbacks for the Black and Gold throughout the years besides only Brees — remain unconvinced of the likelihood of Hill becoming the #1 starter, and are downright skeptical to say the very least.

After all: it was Payton who initially made the reference (while raising the hopes of Who Dats everywhere) by name-dropping / comparing Hill to a Hall of Fame legend, 3-time Super Bowl champion and 2-time League MVP (Steve Young); who threw for over 33,000 passing yards and scored a total of 275 career touchdowns in 13 NFL seasons.

Bottom line: if Taysom is REALLY the “next” Steve Young, some Saints fans have to SEE IT TO BELIEVE IT.

Last year right before the start of the 2019 Season, Payton told ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett that Hill reminded him personally of Young, who famously sat behind another Hall of Fame legend (Joe Montana) as a back-up for a few years, before eventually becoming the starter (in a similar way to what Hill has done recently while learning under the guidance of Brees).

“Well, if you look back at Steve’s career, and people don’t remember his time before he came into the NFL, you had a very athletic player that I think advanced when he got to San Francisco. And he always had great ability with his legs”, Payton told Triplett.

“So you’re trying to create visions for players — no different than how you would evaluate [any typical NFL back-up QB], what he can be. And I think that that’s the business we’re in. … that was something that as you began to watch [Hill’s] skill set, you’re just trying to think of players that were similar at an early stage in their career.”

Then a just few weeks ago, Payton “double-downed” on his comparison of Hill to Young.

Payton told NBC Sports NFL Insider Peter King that he believes Hill “has a chance to be a Steve Young-type quarterback both in and out of the pocket.”

King added that he thinks the 2021 starting Saints #1 QB spot is “Hill’s to lose,” because Taysom has the proverbial “leg-up” (at least for now) because of his experience in Payton’s scheme for the past 3 years; along with the uncertainty of how much of an opportunity that Winston will get to prove that he can overcome his notable issue with turnovers — after throwing the most interceptions in the NFL in a single season last year (30 of them) — in the past 40 years.

Photo Credit(s): New Orleans Saints on YouTube.com

Still in all, Taysom will have plenty to prove presumably in the upcoming months ahead. and beginning just a few weeks from now when the Saints report to Training Camp at the end of next month; and particularly in the Black and Gold’s first Preseason game at Los Angeles against the Rams on August 14th.

But if the comparisons to a Hall-of-Fame “living legend” really do turn out to be accurate, then the Saints’ possible future with Taysom Hill leading the way forward. could end up being a very bright one indeed….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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