For someone who’s never thrown a pass in an NFL game, Pocatello native Taysom Hill is creating quite a stir in New Orleans.
It started last fall when the Saints activated the 2009 Highland High grad to play on special teams. FOX broadcaster Troy Aikman gushed over the Saints’ third-string quarterback forcing a bobbled snap on punt coverage and relayed what Saints coach Sean Payton told him earlier in the week.
“He not only likes Taysom Hill, he loves Taysom Hill,” Aikman said of Payton. “Their future quarterback is Taysom Hill.”
Payton later said those comments were overblown and taken out of context. But the Saints’ moves this offseason show they at least plan to give Hill a shot to back up 39-year-old Drew Brees, who signed a new two-year deal in March.
New Orleans let last season’s backup, Chase Daniel, walk in the offseason. The Saints also signed veteran Tom Savage and undrafted free agent J.T. Barrett to battle for the backup position. But as the team’s mandatory minicamp starts Tuesday, media reports from New Orleans speculate Hill is the favorite for the job.
New Orleans only opened two of its organized team activities (OTAs) to the media last month, but Hill worked with the No. 2 offense during one of them and made two impressive plays — one in which he broke out of the pocket and scrambled downfield, and another when he made a strong throw across his body.
“He looks good,” Payton told the New Orleans media. “We like where he's at. He's grinding, working hard. You guys saw maybe a play where when he does get outside the pocket, he can run — I mean real fast. So that presents a new challenge for the defense.”
Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi said Hill’s ability to create outside of the pocket makes him dangerous.
“Every great quarterback has to have a way of making a play when the play call isn’t perfect,” Lombardi said. “Someone’s not open right away, or the pressure gets to you, and you have certain guys like Tom Brady or Drew, they do it by finding these creative throws or getting the ball out so quick and having that sixth sense of where to go with the ball. Other guys get away from the rush, and they get outside the pocket, and they create.
“You see Aaron Rodgers and those kind of guys make plays that way, just the ability to avoid the rush. The guy runs a sub-4.5 40, and he’s strong.”
Lombardi added he could be, pound for pound, the strongest player on team.
“He might be the strongest squatter,” Lombardi said. “The guy is a freak athlete. I’ve never seen anyone like him at this position.”
The 27-year-old Hill took a long and bumpy road to the NFL. After graduating from Highland High, he went on a two-year Mormon mission in Australia before enrolling at BYU, where four of his five seasons ended early because of injury.
Despite running a 4.40-second 40-yard dash and recording a 38.5-inch vertical leap at his pro day, no team selected him during the 2017 NFL Draft. He signed with the Green Bay Packers as a long shot to make the roster, then shined during the preseason.
He completed 14-of-20 passes for 149 yards, two touchdowns without an interception in three preseason games, adding 71 more yards and a TD on the ground. The Packers surprisingly cut him as they whittled down to their 53-man roster, allowing the Saints to pounce and sign him.
He spent most of the fall on the Saints’ scout team, emulating other quarterbacks and trying to run their plays before New Orleans found a way to get the 6-2, 221-pound athlete on the field. He appeared in five games on special teams, where he made four tackles, and even lined up at wide receiver. Hill never made a tackle during his high school career at Highland, where he was the state’s player of the year.
But this offseason has given him a chance to delve into the Saints’ playbook, one he’ll have to master to back up Brees.
“I was kind of joking around with a few guys that this is the first opportunity I've had to take a rep at quarterback in the New Orleans Saints' offense,” Hill said May 24. “So these last (two weeks of OTA practices) have been a ton of fun."
IDAHO-BORN QBS IN THE NFL
Taysom Hill could become the sixth Idaho-born quarterback to throw a pass in an NFL game.