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Can Saints Head Coach Sean Payton Guide Taysom Hill to NFL Stardom?

Kerry Collins. Tony Romo. Drew Brees. Taysom Hill??? Out of those 4 names of former or current NFL QB's, there's one that very obviously seems to be "out of place" on the list of players at the League's most critical position — quarterback — that Saints head coach Sean Payton has helped guide to NFL stardom; as either an offensive coordinator or a head coach, in the past.

The answer of course would be current Saints back-up QB Taysom Hill, who as you might recall didn't join the organization until last September after spending the 2017 off-season and Pre-Season last year with the Green Bay Packers. Hill went undrafted out of BYU last year, and the Saints immediately claimed him off waivers when the Packers cut him right before the start of the 2017 regular season.

Hill appeared in five games last season playing mostly on special teams, but his own brilliant athleticism along with his capability to play the QB position as the former starting QB at BYU make him a very strong candidate to secure a permanent back-up QB spot on the roster as well as a possible shot to be the team's "QB of the future".

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

But is Hill REALLY the QB of the future for the New Orleans Saints franchise?

That's more speculation than actual fact at this point, but given Payton's notable track record at developing QB's dating back to his days in the late 1990's as the offensive coordinator with the New York Giants under then-head coach Jim Fassel, it would be unwise for any of Hill's doubters to dismiss the possibility.

If ever there was a prime example of Payton's ability to successfully guide young QB's to NFL stardom, it would be what he did with then-Giants starting QB Kerry Collins (who ironically once upon a time was the Saints starting QB under then Saints head coach Mike Ditka) in the 2000 NFL regular season.

Collins as you may recall, started the 1998 season as the starting quarterback for the then-still-new NFL expansion team the Carolina Panthers, who originally selected Collins from Penn State with the 5th overall pick in the 1st Round of the 1995 NFL Draft.

After an 0–4 start, Collins walked into then-Panthers head coach Dom Capers' office and, as Collins later put it, "told Coach Capers my heart's not in it, I'm not happy, and I don't feel like I can play right now." 

He asked to be traded, but was instead placed on waivers by Carolina and subsequently signed with the Saints to finish the season with seven more starts but only two wins (the Saints finished 6-10 that year).

Collins was released by the Saints, and then signed with the Giants in the 1999 off-season, where Sean Payton had just been named as the team's QB coach under Fassel.

(Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger)

Collins started the 1999 season as the Giants' second-string quarterback behind Kent Graham, but claimed the starting job in Week 11 as Graham struggled with a 5–4 record.

In the following 2000 season, Payton was promoted by Fassel as the Giants offensive coordinator; and with Payton guiding him, Collins led the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV, where they eventually lost to the Baltimore Ravens.

Essentially, Payton "restored" Collins' belief and faith in himself that he could be a successful player at the game's highest level.

The great job that he did with getting Collins' career "back on track", was (and still is) a testament to Payton's notable ability to develop QB's — which shouldn't come as much of a surprise given that Payton himself was once a QB.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

After the stint with the Giants, Payton moved on to Dallas; where he was named assistant head coach and  quarterbacks coach in 2003 by then-Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells, and helped QB's Quincy CarterVinny Testaverde, and Drew Bledsoe all to 3,000-yard seasons.

But it was in 2005 after being promoted by Parcells to assistant head coach/passing game coordinator, where the next QB that he would eventually help guide to stardom, became one of his prized pupils: an undrafted rookie free agent QB from Payton's own alma mater (Eastern Illinois University) by the name of Tony Romo.

Despite intriguing some scouts, Romo went undrafted in the 2003 NFL Draft. Throughout the draft, Romo was assured by Payton himself personally of the Cowboys' interest (Romo was also intensely pursued by former Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan), and shortly afterwards was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Cowboys.

Romo entered the 2003 training camp third on the Cowboys' depth chart behind Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson, and for the next few seasons (2004 and 2005) he served primarily as the holder for placekicks.

But it was during that 2005 season — Payton's last season with the Cowboys before accepting the job as the new Saints head coach — when his next QB "pupil" in Romo was elevated by Parcells to the #2 QB spot behind Drew Bledsoe.

Romo had improved in each of the Cowboys' Pre-Seasons since his arrival thanks to Payton's guidance, combining for 47-of-76 passing for 523 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

On one memorable play in 2004, Romo led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind win over the Oakland Raiders after running a quarterback sneak for a touchdown with just six seconds remaining in the game. He had disobeyed Parcells, who wanted a different play.

"We're kind of happy he scored, but Bill is mad,"  Payton said half-jokingly to the media afterwards.

Unfortunately for Payton, he never actually got to coach Romo in an actual regular season game; although his tutelage of the young QB would eventually lead him to become one of the greatest QB's in the Cowboys' entire storied history; where he was the starting QB for an entire decade and was selected to 4 Pro Bowls.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

In fact, right after Payton had been hired by the Saints in the 2006 off-season, he offered a 3rd round draft pick for Romo, but Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones refused, asking for no less than a 2nd round draft pick.

"When the topic came up, it was actually Bill (Parcells) who told me to have a warm glass of milk and take a nap on the couch. It was never seriously discussed", Payton recalled in a story on Romo by ESPN.

Payton would then go on to sign former San Diego Chargers starting QB Drew Brees in 2006 NFL Free Agency, and the rest as they say, is NFL history.

Collins. Romo. Brees. All QB's that Sean Payton has helped guide to NFL stardom. But can Taysom Hill REALLY become the next one?

(Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune)

Hill is still unrefined as a passer and certainly has to continue showing that he can improve upon his accuracy at the NFL level, but he's a DYNAMIC athlete; and any comparison to Tim Tebow would have to be considered a bit off, since Hill throws with much better touch and anticipation from a "pure passer" standpoint, than Tebow ever did.

Hill started 33 games at BYU, throwing for 6,929 yards, 43 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. For a quarterback, Hill can be a dangerous rushing threat. He rushed for 2,815 yards, a BYU record for quarterbacks, and 32 touchdowns.

So clearly, his talent as both a passer and certainly as a runner, aren't in question.

What is (and what likely factored into the Packers' decision to release him) are his age and previous injury history.

At age 27 (he will already be 28 in August), Hill came to the Saints from Green Bay a bit older as most NFL rookies usually are, after completing a two-year mission trip before his playing career at BYU as a devoted follower of the Mormon religious faith (whose founders helped build the school originally back in 1875).

So you've essentially "lost" an entire length of a 3 to 5 year player contract, by him coming into the League last year as a 26 year old, instead of a 21-22 year old — meaning that some teams wouldn't view him as someone they could "build a franchise" around over the course of time.

Hill has also had injury issues previously, and has never once played a full season. He suffered four season-ending injuries during his time in Provo, Utah, which included a knee injury, broken leg, a Lisfranc fracture and an hyperextended elbow. 

Even so, the Pocatello, Idaho native finished his career with 75 total touchdowns and ran for more scores than any other BYU quarterback. Bleacher Report NFL Draft analyst Brett Sobleski says that Hill's talent is undeniable and that he was one of college football's most dynamic quarterbacks.

Hill's body just simply let him down at that time, and the injury concerns — and not his capability as a pocket passer — was the main reason why he went undrafted.

Photo courtesy of The Provo Daily Herald

But nevertheless with putting his older age and previous injury history aside, Hill still has very intriguing abilities as a dual-threat quarterback.

His unique skill set could be a huge advantage for the Saints, and it undoubtedly was one of the reasons why Payton and the Saints organization were so quick to jump on him following his release by the Packers.

After signing with the Packers last year, Hill was #4 on the depth chart, and was expected to be just a "camp body".

But Hill was arguably the Packers’ best quarterback in all of last Pre-Season, completing 14 for 20 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (124.8 rating).

He had the winning 23-yard touchdown scramble at Washington in Week #2 of the 2017 Pre-Season; and later threw a scrambling 25-yard touchdown while on the move in the Pre-Season finale against the Los Angeles Rams.

Photo courtesy of The Green Bay Gazette

"Taysom played very well," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after that final Pre-Season win. "I feel like I've said that seven times already, but he played very well."

Yet just a few days later, Hill was released in favor of back-ups Brett Hundley and Joe Callahan, and the Saints quickly pounced on him.

Payton, though, wasn’t actually looking for another quarterback when he stumbled across Hill while watching tape of Max McCaffrey, the ex-Packers receiver who was cut at the end of camp and signed onto the Saints’ practice squad before being added to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 53-man roster.

“We were looking at trying to find a way to maybe get (McCaffrey) on our practice squad. And I kept seeing this Hill. I’m sure they played quite a bit together on the field at the same time in the preseason,” Payton explained to Wisconsin State-Journal writer Jason Wilde.

"I called (assistant GM Jeff) Ireland in, and we just kept watching the film and studied Max and then began studying Taysom. In a very short amount of time, I imagine, you began to see some quick stroke, live arm, very athletic and can run. A lot of the traits you’re looking for."

"The more film we just kept watching, the more we kept looking to find a reason not to (claim him) and we just trusted out instincts watching him play.”

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Could Mike McCarthy and the Packers' loss become Payton and the Saints' gain?


That question no doubt will be answered in due time.

Payton told reporters a few weeks back that he felt Hill could possibly even become the #2 quarterback this season (over current #2 QB Tom Savage), but cautioned that it's way too early to making any predictions: “I’m not saying that, but I’m not saying that he can’t be.”

Payton then added that he wants to see Hill compete, and to see if he can earn that position.

And not just on Special Teams, where Hill famously played last season and made some impressive plays as a tackler in punt and kickoff coverage.

But as an honest-to-goodness LEGITIMATE quarterback in the National Football League.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Could Taysom Hill even become the next starting QB for the Saints within the next few years? Can Sean Payton guide him to NFL stardom, just as he did for Collins and Romo and is doing still for Brees?

That much is yet to be determined.

But with the tutelage he is getting from Sean Payton, along with being "mentored" by one of the greatest QB's to EVER play in the NFL with future Saints Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees, the idea that Taysom Hill could actually become the next starting QB in New Orleans, isn't as far-fetched as you might think....

Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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