METAIRIE, La. -- First of all, relax before you roll your eyes.
When New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton told CBS’ broadcasting team last week that Taysom Hill “may be the next Steve Young,” he wasn’t saying his versatile third-string quarterback/running back/tight end/receiver/special-teams ace will become a Hall of Famer.
But it was telling, nonetheless, that Payton has that kind of faith in Hill’s potential future as an actual starting NFL quarterback -- maybe even as the heir to Drew Brees' throne in New Orleans one day.
And Payton didn’t back down from his comparison between the two former BYU stars when asked about it on Monday.
“Well, if you look back at Steve's career, and people don’t remember his time before he came into the NFL, you had a very athletic player that I think advanced when he got to San Francisco. And he always had great ability with his legs,” Payton said of Young, who became the 49ers’ starter shortly before his 30th birthday after stops in the USFL and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“So you're trying to create visions for players -- no different than how you would evaluate [fellow Saints backup QB Teddy Bridgewater], what he can be. And I think that that’s the business we’re in. … that was something that as you began to watch [Hill’s] skill set, you’re just trying to think of players that were similar at an early stage in their career.”
For the record, Young himself loves the comp. He told the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer that he is rooting for Hill to get his chance to prove himself as a quarterback in the NFL one day, saying: “I’ll own that comparison, I’ll own it 100%. I hope to be like Taysom Hill someday.”
Like Young, Hill’s NFL career got off to a late start, thanks to a string of injuries in his five-year career at BYU and a two-year LDS Church mission to Australia that followed. Hill was 26 when he originally signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted rookie in 2017. He turns 29 on Friday.
But Hill and the Saints have not given up on his dream of becoming a starting NFL quarterback. And to be honest, that dream seems more realistic now than it did a week ago -- not just because of Payton’s comments, but because of how good Hill looked as both a passer and runner in his best preseason performance to date Sunday.
Payton said he puts “quite a bit of stock” into the way Hill came off the bench and brought the Saints back to life from a 17-3 halftime deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers.
“It’s up to me as the quarterback to bring the energy. And the thing I kept reiterating in the huddle was, ‘We’re going to have an opportunity to win the game,’” said Hill, who completed 11 of 15 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, while running five times for 53 yards. “And I know it’s a preseason game, but this is what it’s all about."
Another disclaimer: I don’t believe New Orleans’ backup quarterback job for 2019 will suddenly become an open competition, despite the fact that Hill played so much better than Bridgewater on Sunday.
Bridgewater had maybe his worst day yet as a Saint, completing 5 of 12 passes for 40 yards with an interception in the first half while battling an illness he said was no excuse. Bridgewater is the NFL’s highest-paid backup QB at $7.25 million this year for good reason -- and he has looked much better throughout training camp and the preseason opener than he did Sunday.
However, the competition to become Brees’ long-term successor? Well, that might be a little more wide open.
For one thing, Bridgewater might leave as a free agent if a better opportunity opens up next March.
For another, Hill has shown real progress in the pocket since last summer (when his preseason was marred by an ugly Week 2 start with two interceptions and two lost fumbles in the first half). His 27-yard touchdown pass to wide-open receiver Austin Carr was especially impressive, because Carr estimated he was the fifth read on the play.
“Ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of the time, that ball is not thrown to me. We saw the [point zero one percent],” Carr said. “Credit Taysom for finding me. … It speaks to his poise in the pocket. You know Taysom’s a guy that likes to scramble -- or if there’s pressure, he’s confident in his legs. But to see him sit in there and to find the fourth, fifth, sixth read or whatever it was just speaks to his poise and his maturity as a quarterback.”
One area where Hill might need to develop if he wants to become more of a traditional QB, though, is getting used to the idea of protecting himself by sliding or running out of bounds.
“I try to do that,” Hill said. “But I tell [coaches] all the time that I feel like I’m gonna break every tackle, so it’s hard to give myself up.”
Hill has been having a blast in the jack-of-all-trades role that grew into a phenomenon last year, when he threw for 64 yards with no TDs and an interception, ran for 196 yards and two TDs, caught a TD pass in the NFC Championship Game, converted two fake punts, blocked a punt and returned kickoffs, among other highlights.
And he has repeatedly mentioned he's grateful that the Saints saw a way to take advantage of his rare athletic traits. (The 6-foot-2, 221-pounder, who earned the nickname "Thor-terback" in college, reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds at BYU’s pro day. Teammates and coaches marvel at his prowess in the weight room.)
But Hill has never given up his dream of being a quarterback above all else.
“I’ve been a quarterback since I was a little guy, and that has always been the end goal and the end opportunity. So I want to play quarterback,” Hill said. “Coach Payton and the other guys on staff have made it clear that they care a lot about my progression at the quarterback position, which gives me a lot of pride. So that’s definitely a priority for me, while making sure that I stay up on all the other things that I'm asked to do.”