Taysom Hill once said “If New Orleans doesn’t view me [as a quarterback], then I have to leave.”
Well Taysom, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Sean Payton desperately wants to play you at quarterback. The bad news is that after last night, Jameis Winston has almost assuredly won the starting job. That’s not to say he won’t lose it at some point in the season if he starts playing poorly or the team is having trouble winning games, but as of right now, Taysom Hill is New Orleans’ QB2.
Hill has undoubtedly received more than enough opportunities to earn the starting quarterback job. He played with the Saints’ first-team offense in the team’s first game of the preseason and completed eight of 12 passes for 81 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. He was fine. Nothing special though. The Saints are a playoff-ready roster with Super Bowl aspirations. Hill has the ability to lead the Saints to the postseason, but the Saints would not be winning games because of their quarterback. In steps Jameis Winston. With his career all but written off at this point, Winston has re-emerged and is looking better than ever.
In last night’s game, it was Winston’s turn to start. He played almost the entire first quarter and went 9-of-10 for 123 yards with two touchdowns to Marquez Callaway. 158.3 is a perfect quarterback rating. Winston posted a rating of 157.5 in the first quarter. He was SSSSSMOKIN’.
With only three preseason games this season, this performance from Winston has almost assuredly earned him the starting quarterback job in Week 1 of the regular season. Taysom Hill would have to pull off some pretty incredible feats to steal it at this point. I’m talking like 12-15 yards per attempt with multiple touchdowns, no picks, no sacks taken, and 50 rushing yards. As much as Sean Payton seems to want to stroke his ego and prove that the diamond in the rough he found can “be an outstanding NFL quarterback,” even he has to see that Winston is the better option now. Much like Winston’s vision, no matter how blurry Payton’s mind was in the past, it should be all cleared up at this point.
Just think for a second about what each quarterback brings to the table. Does anyone really think that Taysom Hill can match Winston’s arm talent? You think Hill could’ve made that deep throw to Callaway in the first? Hell no! Decision-making? I could see an argument being made there, but in terms of pure potential at the quarterback position, Winston takes the cake. Having Winston under center raises the Saints’ ceiling astronomically. Say what you will about his disappointing seasons in Tampa Bay, and what that team was able to do as soon as he left for the Bayou, but Winston has clearly improved since 2019. I don’t know if it was because he learned some new tricks in his year under Drew Brees, or if his vision was really so bad that he couldn’t play properly at the start of his career, but something has changed. So what is it?
Winston doesn’t seem to be any less gung-ho in his approach. From what I saw, aside from a few designed checkdowns to his running backs, Winston was still slinging the ball. I know it was only 10 passes, but his average depth of target was much higher than what we saw from him in Tampa. Will he tone it down a bit when the regular season comes? Absolutely, but until I see it with my own eyes, I can’t say that his mindset at the position hasn’t changed all that much. He does seem to be more accurate. In 2019, only 69.9 percent of Winston’s throws were considered “on-target.” For comparison, Drew Brees’s on-target rate was 84.1 percent in 2019.
The only question left regarding Winston’s latest opportunity to shine is what kind of jump we should expect, and there will be a jump. He’s got the best O-line in the NFC (Browns still best in the NFL). With that much time to throw, even if Winston still had his blurry vision, he’d eventually find an open receiver. We shouldn’t expect a Peyton Manning-type jump like some people would like to believe.
We shouldn’t expect anything close to that. Winston isn’t Peyton Manning. However, a jump to just under the level of say Baker Mayfield? Kirk Cousins? That’s absolutely doable, and would be more than enough to lead the Saints to a playoff spot and perhaps compete for a division title. As for Taysom Hill, it was fun while it lasted. But, hey, with Adam Trautman sidelined, Hill still has a chance to earn a starting role, just not at the quarterback position.