Let’s take a look at some of the basic numbers for each contender in this highly anticipated Saints QB competition, key factors that’ll go into head coach Sean Payton’s decision, and predict who’ll come out on top between Winston and Hill.
Jameis Winston stats
- Jameis Winston stats (2019, Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Completed 380 of 626 passing attempts (60.7%), 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, 30 interceptions, 84.3 passer rating; 59 carries, 250 yards, one rushing touchdown
Because Brees was the predominant starter last season, and it was actually Hill who took the reins when the veteran went down injured, it’s more relevant to include Winston’s numbers from 2019, when he was in Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers once drafted Winston No. 1 overall, and obviously, he’s capable of producing at an elite level. That said, the glaring issue is Winston’s penchant for throwing the ball to the other team. He can’t afford to throw anywhere near 30 interceptions and expect to hold down a starting QB gig.
Taysom Hill stats
- Taysom Hill stats (2020, New Orleans Saints): Completed 88 of 121 passing attempts (72.7%), 928 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, 98.8 passer rating; 87 carries, 457 yards, eight rushing touchdowns
It’s a relatively small sample size for Hill as an NFL passer. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of BYU, which is quite the opposite of Winston’s path to the pros. Concerns still linger about Hill’s ability to throw the ball, despite his relatively solid numbers.
To step in for Brees and go 3-1 as a starter with Super Bowl expectations looming says something about Hill, though. Despite his playing multiple other positions in New Orleans’ offense and nontraditional skill set, maybe he’s destined to at least get the starting nod in 2021.
Key factors in Jameis Winston vs. Taysom Hill competition
The long shadow cast by the legendary Drew Brees
It can’t be understated how big of an act Winston and Hill are following. Brees is historically great, and had the Saints done a better job of building a roster around him, they’d have won more than one Super Bowl during his tenure.
No longer can New Orleans count on Brees to bail the team out of tight spots or lackluster personnel. Not only is Brees’ on-field production going to be missed, but his presence in the locker room might be even greater than that.
We saw the difference Tom Brady made for the Bucs when he replaced Winston last season. That’s the type of intangible value brought to the Saints. They suddenly don’t have him anymore.
The fact that Winston and Hill are so unproven as leaders makes for a shaky outlook at the position no matter who takes over in New Orleans. Not hard to see why most don’t believe the Saints will make the playoffs this coming season.
Jameis Winston’s decision-making and field vision
Part of the turnover woes Winston suffered in Tampa Bay might’ve honestly been due to poor field vision. And that’s meant in the most literal sense.
Winston underwent LASIK surgery in February 2020. For all anyone knows, he could transform into a completely different quarterback because of that enhanced eyesight.
We can’t attribute all of Winston’s dubious decisions to vision, though. In addition to the myriad ill-advised throws into nonexistent windows, Winston has endured his fair share of self-inflicted adversity outside the white lines, too.
Now entering his age-27 season, you’d hope Winston has matured enough to be ready for this second chance he has, not to mention the opportunity to stick it to the Bucs twice a year in the NFC South if he succeeds. It’s all going to come down to Winston’s judgment, where he doesn’t exactly have a sparkling track record.
Taysom Hill’s relative inexperience at QB — and his value elsewhere
Payton is an outstanding offensive mind, but we’re really going to find out about the coach’s football acumen now that Brees is retired.
One way Payton can create so many mismatches is thanks to Hill’s versatility. You can line him up under center, in the shotgun, as a ball-carrier in the backfield, at tight end, or even split out wide as a receiver.
By making Hill a pure quarterback, the Saints likely deprive themselves of tons of innate creativity on offense. They’d need to find someone with a similar skill set, and let’s be real, Hill is a unicorn in terms of what he can do on the football field.
If Hill is the best man for the job and clearly outperforms Winston as a QB, New Orleans will give him the job. However, this is one major factor that’ll count against him.
It’s crazy to say that, because you’d think being a well-rounded football player is positive in any context. In this instance, Hill may be too valuable as a human Swiss Army Knife to only play QB — and a two-QB system is just asking for trouble.
Do the Saints want a traditional pocket passer, or a new-age field general?
That’s probably the biggest question New Orleans should be asking internally. Winston is clearly a purer dropback passer, yet just look at the completion percentages from the stats section. Hill’s was much higher, which is rather shocking.
Winston isn’t a slouch of an athlete by any means. He can extend plays with his legs and even pick up chunk yards on the ground. He’s just not nearly as dynamic in the open field as Hill is.
Among the two QBs, though, Winston came out of Florida State in a pro-style offense and, at least from a schematic standpoint, probably has a better grasp on how to execute in the structure of a traditional system than Hill does. That’s partially due to how Hill’s athleticism can allow him to escape the pocket and make off-schedule plays.
New Orleans Saints starting QB prediction
Because of his upside, improved vision, the change of scenery in New Orleans and Hill’s uncommon versatility, all signs are pointing to Winston as the favorite.
Nevertheless, don’t count Hill out. He exceeded most reasonable expectations when he won three of four games for the Saints in 2020, and Payton has strong convictions about his abilities as a quarterback.
Payton may get carried away and want to see through his long-gestating passion project. To see his prophecy fulfilled. That Hill can absolutely be a franchise quarterback. The coach also underscored how important “protecting the football” is when outlining the main criteria for the job in April, per Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer:
“The most important thing is leading this team, leading the offense to scores—protecting the football and scoring. There are certain commandments that we think are real important. Both of them have shown great leadership skills. Both of them have been very unselfish. It’s been a really good room here for a while. […] Obviously, it’s on us to give these guys the best stuff that we feel like they can execute and allow them to play.”
That whole “ball protection” initiative would certainly appear to work in Hill’s favor, at least based on what he’s done so far.
It’s not like New Orleans has much to lose by starting Hill, considering Winston is only on a one-year contract worth $5.5 million. The latter isn’t getting paid like a starter, and his 30-interception season makes him a dubious choice anyway.
So, time to go bold here: Taysom Hill should and will be the New Orleans Saints’ starting quarterback in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.