Saints' Sean Payton shows the 'love' for tight end Josh Hill

The hype surrounding New Orleans Saints tight end Josh Hill certainly won't die down after the way coach Sean Payton gushed over him on Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix.

I've written a few times now about how I’d preach caution to those expecting a huge breakout season from Hill (fantasy or otherwise) in the wake of the Jimmy Graham trade.

But the third-year pro will certainly play a more expanded role in New Orleans Saints' offense.

“This Josh Hill is another player that I love. I love,” Payton said during his fourth or fifth reference to the former undrafted free agent out of Idaho State. “When you look at his runs, jumps, height, weight, speed, you look at his measurables -- and he didn’t go to the combine, thank God.

"We were doing this study last year with the draft class, and they were talking about some of the top picks at tight end. So the scouts had the board, and this is human nature, but the scout would see [Hill as a] free-agent tight end, and kinda say, 'Well, he'll come in Year 1 and probably beat out Josh Hill.' And I'm like, 'He will?' I said, 'Well, let’s throw the numbers up on the board with their measurables.' And all of a sudden, Josh Hill, you look at a 38-inch vertical jump, he's an 11 broad (jump), three-cone, whatever. And the comparables to the top tight ends in the draft a year ago, I said, 'In every category this guy's better.' There's this perception, we're the same way as coaches, if we require someone as a free agent after the draft. But when you really look at the film and watch him, if I told you this guy was our third-round draft pick, you’d be excited now.

"We’ve just got to get that little jersey off his back that says, ‘I came here as a free agent.’ I think we feel like he's got a bright future.”​

Payton even threw a reference to the fantasy football crowd during another mention of Hill, saying, “Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot. He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you. But he’s a real good tight end, he’s versatile in the running game, in the receiving game, as a special-teams player.”

However, that versatility is one of the reasons why I’ve preached caution when it comes to expectations for big numbers.

Payton has praised the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder in the past, as well, but he always mentions how valuable Hill is as a core special-teams player -- calling him possibly the Saints’ special-teams MVP last year.

And while Hill did catch five touchdown passes last season in a limited role, he only caught 14 total passes for 176 yards, and he wasn’t regularly featured as a red zone target.

So, it’s wise to feel Payton’s “love” for Hill -- just don’t expect him to take over the “Jimmy Graham role” in New Orleans’ offense. Graham’s production will be absorbed by more of a committee of players -- including newly acquired running back C.J. Spiller, who might be even more relevant for fantasy purposes. Payton also raved about Spiller on Wednesday.

Payton also made a couple of brief references Wednesday to two other super-sleepers I’ve mentioned before -- second-year receivers Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones.

Both undrafted rookies spent last year on the practice squad, but Payton was impressed by the potential he saw in them, which may have helped make receiver Kenny Stills expendable before the Saints traded Stills to the Miami Dolphins.

“We have two practice squad receivers that no one would even know right now that we think are going to be involved in this year’s plan,” Payton said once, before later adding: “Seantavious Jones, Brandon Coleman, shoot there's a handful of players aside from Brandin Cooks or aside from Marques [Colston] that we look at and see snaps from. … Nick Toon is another one.”

Of course, Payton also mentioned that the Saints like the receiver depth in this year’s draft class, so there might be a crowded path to playing time for Coleman and Jones come training camp.