Readers of this NFL feature space may think we’re too biased towards quarterbacks – as in, according to the ages-old axiom, they get too much credit in games won, and too much blame when games are lost.
Meet Taysom Hill.
He wears a quarterback’s number – seven – for the New Orleans Saints. But he is not Drew Brees’ back-up; that honour goes to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers signal-caller Jameis Winston.
He sometimes lines up in the backfield behind Brees – or beside him, if Brees is in shotgun formation. Especially in the Saints’ red zone offence.
Or even lines up at quarterback on motion plays, that is when Brees goes in motion to wide receiver.
He sometimes lines up as a slot receiver or as a wide receiver.
He is the up-back on punt plays, and a “gunner” on punt coverage.
He’s been known to return punts and kickoffs, as well as being a special teams jack-of-all-trades.
And if Saints coach Sean Payton ever required him to play defence, either in coverage or to rush the opposing team’s quarterback, Hill – with all of his athleticism – would probably jump at the chance of doing any of that as well.
Hill is, as some of the New Orleans-based media have already coined him, the Saints’ resident Swiss Army Knife: many functions in one package.
And he isn’t just a skill-specific position player – he is a football player, plain and simple.
Hill is a throwback to pick-up games in the schoolyards – except with only just slightly less spontaneity in Payton’s system.
As a fan, when you see the Number Seven in the Saints’ black and gold colours enter the game, you get excited when you see him lining up, in the same way when a reserve offensive tackle reports as an eligible receiver.
Except Hill’s nature of unpredictability makes him more of a novelty, even in the years since he joined the Saints.
And for our Australian-centric audience, Hill has historical connections – being based in Sydney from 2009 to 2011 on a Mormon missionary assignment after high school in Idaho.
Somehow, the young man’s journey from Pocatello, Idaho, to Sydney, and back to America’s Rocky Mountains – via an about-face to attend Stanford University to play collegiate football, because the Palo Alto-based school did not allow incoming freshmen to join the team until each June, allowing him to enrol closer to home at Brigham Young University instead – befits the unconventional nature that fans see on the gridiron.
In other words… art imitates life.
Versatility among football teams is nothing new. Although the last known 60-minute two-way player was Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik on the 1960 NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers coach Jack Christiansen rotated three viable quarterbacks in his offensive backfield in the 1964 season in John Brodie, George Mira and Billy Kilmer, and Dallas Cowboys legendary coach Tom Landry literally rotated quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Craig Morton from one play to the next in the Cowboys’ 1971 season.
But those moves were borne out of coaching indecision more than anything else, where Payton’s moves with Hill come as an intended design.
Now in his third season with the Saints, the 30-year-old Hill has enjoyed moments which have been transformed from the novelty nature to pure contributions.
Overall, entering the 2020 season, Hill may have completed only six of 13 passes on any of Payton’s gadget plays, but has also amassed a 5.5-yard rushing average while scoring three touchdowns on the ground, and attained a 10.8-yard average as a receiver and scoring six touchdowns at the end of Brees’ aerials.
And while the Saints have fallen short in the playoffs over the last few years, to put it lightly, it’s not for lack of trying on the part of Hill, who has scored two receiving touchdowns and maintaining a respectable 8.3-yard average on the ground.
So how much is he valued by the Saints? Take today’s game against the Carolina Panthers into consideration.
In the Saints’ 27-24 win, Hill’s presence was more significant than any of his tangible statistical contributions.
Hill may have completed his only attempted pass for no gain, rushed once for a mere six yards, and did not record a reception on the only time which Brees targeted him, Hill played a role in blocking down on the Panthers’ edge defenders for Jared Cook’s first-quarter touchdown reception.
Bottom line: while Hill’s statistical productivity is down through the Saints’ first six games versus the 2018 and 2019 seasons, he is willing to do anything to help the Saints win football games. Especially in situations where every score matters in tight games.
Which is vital as the 4-2 Saints look to overtake the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and get back into the playoffs amid a very competitive NFC South race.
And as such, Payton and Brees will keep counting on Hill to play and do the little things as often as possible.
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