Jameis Winston’s Impressive Night Ends Taysom Hill Debate Once and for All
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By all appearances, the New Orleans Saints quarterback battle between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill was very much alive throughout the spring and summer.
It ended on Monday night.
Sean Payton has made it clear to the world he loves Hill—a jack-of-all-trades 31-year-old who worked in with Drew Brees more often than he probably should have during the final few years of Brees’s career. But even Payton now has to admit Winston gives the Saints a significantly better chance than Hill.
One week after he averaged more yards per attempt than Hill and was the only Saints quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in the team’s preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, Winston was nearly perfect with nine completions on 10 attempts and two touchdowns over three series as the Saints dominated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday.
There wasn’t much Hill could do from there, but an 11-for-20 night and just 6.9 yards per attempt (compared to 12.3 for Winston) wasn’t enough. He did throw a third-quarter touchdown pass, but he also might have gotten away with an interception in that same frame. All of that came against deep reserves.
Did we ever get a answer to the age old question of whose a better QB- Taysom Hill or Lamar Jackson? https://t.co/Ytg3NUFfIy
Most encouraging is Winston’s glaring chemistry with field-stretching 23-year-old wideout Marquez Callaway, who was on the receiving end of five of Winston’s nine completions, including both touchdown bombs.
The first deep touchdown to Callaway was risky and easily could have been intercepted, but it was also a throw very few NFL quarterbacks can make.
We know who Winston is. He’s that guy who went over 5,000 yards and threw 33 touchdown passes but was also intercepted on a ridiculous 30 occasions two years ago with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If he starts the entire 2021 season in New Orleans, he’ll almost certainly throw more picks than Hill would have in the same role. But it’s worth finding out if he’s evolved enough to at least cut down on those mistakes, and if he can hit on enough big plays to compensate for however many interceptions he throws.
Why not find out? We’re talking about a 27-year-old who was a No. 1 pick and a Pro Bowler as a rookie. He has it in him, and it’s fair for Payton to believe he can excel now that he’s more mature and has more support in New Orleans than he ever did in Tampa.
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The post-Drew Brees Saints would have a pretty obvious ceiling with Hill, who may or may not be a gimmick quarterback but completed just six NFL passes before his 30th birthday. The tape indicates he simply isn’t efficient enough as a deep passer, even if he’s safer than Winston. “Safe” probably won’t cut it for these Saints, who fell short of the Super Bowl each of the past 11 seasons even with a future Hall of Famer under center.
The boom-or-bust dynamic with Winston could also be a blessing because if he blows up again, it’s easy to move on next offseason, and you might have even more draft capital to find your quarterback for 2022 and beyond.
If Winston explodes, you could win 12 games and make a playoff run. If he implodes, you might lose 12 and land a top-five pick. Hill represented the middle of the road, which is boring and shouldn’t be something Payton and his veteran team is aiming for right now.
And while this might seem preposterous on the surface because Brees is a legend, the reality is this version of Winston is much more physically capable than the Brees we saw during the twilight of his career. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Info, his first touchdown pass to Callaway traveled longer in the air than any Saints touchdown pass since 2016.
Payton told reporters before Monday’s game that he had no timetable for choosing a starting quarterback. And while we should probably expect to see Hill at least as often as we saw him with Brees, Winston forced his veteran coach’s hand before the first quarter was over against Jacksonville. He’s gotta be the No. 1 option.
A timetable should no longer be necessary. The Jameis Winston era must begin when the Saints host the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 12.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.