Sean Payton’s Taysom Hill man crush, explained: Is the Saints gadget QB worth his contract?

By | October 12, 2020

It didn’t take long after Taysom Hill’s emergence for football fans to start speculating who might be “the next Taysom Hill.” The excitement was so rushed, no one even stopped to try and figure out whether Hill himself is worth it.

There’s plenty of discussion to be had as to whether Hill’s $16 million cap hit in 2021 will be profitable to anyone other than Sean Payton, but this isn’t about whether the New Orleans Saints handed their third-string quarterback too much money. Instead, what’s most worth determining is if each time Hill takes the field is enough of a positive for the Saints to keep on using his multi-faceted skill set. 

New Orleans is locked into Hill’s contract. But Payton can call whatever he wants. This is a breakdown of whether Payton should keep calling offensive plays that involve Hill.

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Taysom Hill contract details

  • Years: 2
  • Total value: $21 million
  • Max value: $22 million
  • Guaranteed: $16 million
  • Average per year: $10.5 million (second among backup QBs)

Hill signed an extension through the 2021 season in April that was due to pay him $21 million, with $16 million being guaranteed and another $1 million possible in incentives. Half of the guarantee is supposed to be paid out as signing bonus money, according to Spotrac, with Hill getting $4 million in 2020 and another $4 million in 2021 via signing bonus. New Orleans pushed nearly $11 million of the base salary payment into 2021, with Hill earning less than $1 million in base salary in 2020.

The average annual value of Hill’s extension ($10.5 million) makes him the second-highest paid backup in the NFL, behind Colts QB Jacoby Brissett ($15 million). 

Taysom Hill the rusher

The simple way of looking at every time Hill rushes is to say it’s a rush that he’s taking away from Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. Of course it’s not exactly that simple, because Hill’s mere presence with the ball in his hands at least offers the threat of passing, too. But to decide whether it’s worth it for him to run the ball, aligning him with Kamara and Murray makes the most sense.

Most of Hill’s runs come when he lines up as a quarterback in the shotgun with either Kamara or Murray by his side. After the snap, they run an apparent read-option, and sometimes Hill keeps the football.

In his NFL career, Hill has averaged 5.2 yards per carry. That’s better than Kamara’s 4.9 yards per carry and better than Murray’s 4.3 yards per carry since joining the Saints in 2019. So on an elementary, per-play basis, running Hill a few times a game seems to be a good call, although his average is down to 3.3 yards per carry on his first 10 totes in 2020.

Where Hill’s rushing seems to lose its effectiveness is near the end zone. He’s rushed 14 times inside the 10 in his career for 33 yards, and he’s only found the end zone twice on those 14 carries from in close. Hill’s best threat as a passer is a decent deep ball, and that threat is taken away near the goal line. 

Both Murray and Kamara have much better rates of scoring touchdowns on carries inside the 10 compared to Hill’s 14.2 percent — Kamara gets in 31.9 percent of the time, and Murray scores 28.3 percent of the time. When Hill’s multi-faceted threat becomes more limited down near the goal line is where Payton should consider just sticking to the simple, running back carries that generally work just fine. 

Taysom Hill the receiver 

Hill’s role as a receiver is different than when he’s a rusher. Drew Brees remains the quarterback when Hill lines up to block or catch passes, normally in a tight end spot. Instead of running what amount to gadget plays when Hill takes Brees’ spot as quarterback, the Saints can run a regular offense with Hill as a tight end.

The Saints aren’t shy of natural options at the tight end position with Jared Cook, Josh Hill and rookie Adam Trautman. But Hill certainly presents another option as a hard-nosed blocker and athletic receiver. Once Payton recognized that Hill could pass as a tight end, it’s probably the most easily defended decision for him to use Hill in that role.

Since 2018, Hill has caught 25 of the 32 targets intended for him, picking up 261 yards and scoring six times (all in 2019). That’s a great 78.1-catch percentage. His 2019 certainly looks to be the gold standard of how Hill could be used as a tight end, as he caught 19-of-22 targets and picked up a touchdown or first down on 14 of those catches. Payton’s usage of Hill as a specialist to pick up first downs or score touchdowns has been the Saints’ most successful method of playing Hill.

Taysom Hill the passer

While Hill is a quarterback and wears No. 7 after playing college QB at BYU, he’s thrown less in his NFL career than he’s run or caught. That’s probably for the best, especially since New Orleans has Drew Brees at quarterback.

Hill usually attempts a pass down the field, often off play-action, when he’s in at quarterback. He’s completed seven of his 14 NFL passes for 157 yards, not throwing a touchdown but being picked off once. While that’s a small-sample size, it does come with a better yards per attempt than Brees, but not enough that it’s worth the drop in accuracy and efficiency that New Orleans gets when Hill passes instead of Brees.

Making the Hill pass plays a worse choice for Payton is that Brees normally remains in the game and lines up out wide. He essentially becomes a player the defense doesn’t have to worry about covering, so on a play where an inefficient passer is already the choice, taking away one potential receiver can’t be helpful to Hill’s cause.

Does Taysom Hill win or lose games for the Saints?

It’s true that the triple-threat analysis above doesn’t account for Hill’s roles on special teams, which are tougher to measure and probably add slight value for New Orleans over a potential replacement for Hill in his special teams spots. But a look back at Hill’s role in the outcome of games through his offense gives us some indication.

Hill’s lone regular-season thrown interception came against the Steelers in 2018 on an attempted deep ball to Ted Ginn Jr. The Steelers got a field goal out of the ensuing drive to open the scoring, but New Orleans came back to win. His only two touchdowns in 2018, both rushing, came in games that were decided by double-digits — one meaningless to bring the Saints within 19 in the fourth quarter of a decided game, the other the Saints’ fourth touchdown in a blowout of Washington.

In 2019, Hill did open the scoring against Atlanta with a receiving touchdown in what wound up being a one-score game, and he ran for a 30-yard touchdown later in the ballgame, points in his favor. And he caught a third-quarter touchdown against Houston as a comeback mounted. But a few of his other 2019 touchdowns were again of the, it’s late in the game, why not put Hill in the game, variety. 

Hill caught touchdowns in the final game of New Orleans’ postseason in both 2019 and 2020, neither enough to win the game. His most notable 2020 play so far was a fumble on an attempted run in a tie game against Green Bay in Week 3. The Packers made a field goal after the fumble and held on to win. 

So … is Sean Payton’s man crush on Taysom Hill warranted?

It’s a mixed bag here. Hill seems like a genuinely useful receiver when he lines up at tight end. At that position, the Saints don’t need to alter what they do offensively, and Hill is athletic enough to make plays and find the end zone as a receiver.

Hill isn’t a bad option as a rusher, either. His career yards per carry bests both Kamara and Murray, so at least for the change-of-pace, Hill is worth rushing a few times a game, although probably not in the red zone.

It’s as a passer where Hill’s role should probably totally be nixed. While it’s a small-sample size, it doesn’t make sense to take the ball out of Brees’ hands on pass plays for a quarterback with a scattershot arm. 

And while we said we wouldn’t get into it, that certainly doesn’t sound like a $16-million player. But the contract is already signed, so that’s mostly irrelevant. Overall, it makes sense for Payton to continue using Hill to some extent — the Saints’ head man just needs to make sure his creative uses of Hill don’t take away from the higher probability Kamara, Murray, Brees or Michael Thomas have of dramatically altering a game in the Saints’ favor.