How Taysom Hill’s growth as a route runner could make him an even bigger weapon

Imagine a world where one player can do everything and never leave the field.

Quarterback one snap.

Tight end the next.

Running back.

Wide receiver.

OK, so, maybe this isn’t the best exercise. The mind doesn’t have to stretch that far since everyone is already more than familiar with Taysom Hill. The football player has been doing a little everything for the better part of two seasons. So, let’s try this again.

Imagine a world where he’s doing a little of everything a whole lot more.

Imagine a world where he’s playing 70 or 80 percent of the offensive snaps.

Imagine how defenses would counter his presence.

No images for the last one? Going blank? That’s the point.

This is a fun thought. But if Hill sticks with the Saints next season (he’s a restricted free agent), the only way this is possible is if Hill continues to develop his route-running ability.

He was a creative change of pace in 2018, a player who could gut a team on a read-option and catch them slipping with a deep pass. Last year, Hill began flashing the ability to run routes and catch passes. The process was slow-building, perhaps in part to having his role limited while Drew Brees was out with a thumb injury, but he’s on the right path, which opens up tons of possibilities for 2020.

To get a better idea of where this is heading (or further fuel this fever dream), I went through every play of the 2019 season to locate the 97 plays during which Hill ran a route. Evaluating these plays painted the picture of a player who can continue to get better and become a better offensive weapon, even if Hill has to put his desire to be a starting quarterback on hold for another year.

Hill isn’t a refined route runner in the way wide receivers are refined route runners. Early last season, he looked like a quarterback running routes, because, well, he was a quarterback running routes. His route tree was limited to essentially two routes — goes and crossing routes — during the first three weeks of the season.

Hill actually had a feel for when to sit in a zone on crossing routes very early on, but the process was otherwise a little rigid. There was a curl route that fell incomplete in Week 2, and a screen in Week 3 with a couple out routes mixed in, but the Saints primarily stuck with those two routes during the early portion of the season.

Hill’s package started to expand in Week 4 against Dallas. He wasn’t targeted but ran four routes that game. Two were out routes. Two were curls. The next week he ran curl, out and go routes.

The progression continued, but it wasn’t until Brees returned against Arizona that things started to take off a little more for Hill. While he continued primarily running the same set of routes during the second half of the season, with the out becoming more prominent, his execution continued to improve. By the end of the year, he started to look like a more refined route runner.

Just look at his touchdown against Arizona when he used a jab step toward the middle of the field to get a defensive back turned the wrong way before cutting to the outside on an out route. In this moment, Hill looked like a legitimate wide receiver. Earlier in the season, he looked like a guy following lines drawn on a page. By the end, he looked like someone who better understood the process and was starting to detail his assignments better.

Here’s a look at the routes Hill ran this year and his level of success:

  • Crossing route (ran 20 total): 8-for-9, 135 yards
  • Out (15): 2-for-3, 33 yards
  • Curl (11): 0-for-1
  • Flat (9): 3-for-3, 10 yards
  • Wheel (9): 1-for-1, 36 yards
  • Seam (5): 1-1, 9 yards
  • Screen (4): 4-for-4, 11 yards
  • Go (15): No targets
  • In (8): No targets
  • Slant (1): No target

Hill still has a long way to go before being considered a proficient route runner. The crossing route is still his primary weapon, which makes sense. Hill is a weapon with the ball in his hands, so getting him open in space should remain a priority. But his route tree is broad enough that, with a little more refinement, he should be able to play more snaps.

Perhaps getting to 70 or 80 percent is a bit much, defenses would have fits if Hill could play that often and not be a liability in the passing game. Imagine a no-huddle package where Hill could go from position to position. The Saints could run an endless array of formations and trap the defense in a package where there would always be a mismatch based on what Hill is doing.

The Saints already have a deadly offense with Hill on the team. But they’re only scratching the surface with the things he is capable of doing. A little bit of practice and refinement, and he could become one of the team’s deadliest weapons.

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