Why Taysom Hill is often compared to legendary Steve Young

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Taysom Hill
(Photo: Parker Waters)

A friendly discussion among fans since Taysom Hill arrived and emerged as a factor with the New Orleans continues heading into the 2020 season.

Is Hill a legitimate NFL quarterback?

Last August during training camp, head coach Sean Payton cited similarities between Hill and Steve Young, a Hall of Famer. Payton has maintained throughout that Hill is “one of our better players.” Few will argue that point now but there’s little NFL evidence the BYU product (like Young himself) can ever be on that elite level.

Hill’s athletic skills are intriguing to be sure.

Standing 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds with sub-4.4 speed, he is a remarkable athlete. Hill was grabbed off the waiver wire from the Packers to end the preseason in 2017. Since then, he has been a true Swiss Army Knife for the Black and Gold.

Deployed in New Orleans as a special team star, H-back/receiver and quarterback for special run-oriented packages, Hill has accumulated 119 yards passing, 352 rushing with three touchdowns and 22 catches for 238 yards with six more scores. He has returned 15 kickoff returns for a healthy 24 -yard average and chipped in 13 tackles on special teams.

Now under team control with a new two-year deal worth $21 million with $16 million fully guaranteed, Hill is part of the present and near future for the Saints.

Coming out of high school in Pocatello, Idaho, Hill considered a lot of options out west. Jim Harbaugh, head coach at Stanford at the time, put on a hard sell. Hill, a member of the LDS church, decided on BYU.

Hill’s days in Provo were marred by injuries.  He was used in gadget packages early with the Cougars but ended up making 37 starts and producing 6,929 yards with 34 touchdowns as well as 31 interceptions.

Young struggled mightily in college, throwing the ball inconsistently when he first arrived. Legendary BYU head coach LaVell Edwards considered moving Young, a very good athlete, to defensive back.

Edwards stuck with Young at quarterback and it is a good thing he did.

Young’s senior campaign in 1983 proved Edwards’ patience had paid off.

Young became a star, passing for 3,902 yards and 33 touchdowns with a then NCAA record completion rate of 71.3 percent. The Cougars finished 11-1, and Young finished second in the Heisman voting to Nebraska running back Mike Rozier.

After stops with the USFL’s L.A. Express (USFL), followed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons, Young was dealt to the 49ers for second and fourth round picks in the 1987 draft. He served as a backup to Joe Montana for four seasons. Young’s patience was rewarded as he became an elite player and led San Francisco to another Super Bowl championship.

One former San Francisco teammate of Young sees similarities between the 49ers legend and Hill.

A product of L.W. Higgins and Grambling State, Nate Singleton spent 40 games in San Francisco in the ‘90’s as a wide receiver.

For the past seven seasons, Singleton has roamed then sideline in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during Saints’ games, teaming with former NFL star Gary Barbaro, serving as the player uniform inspectors for the league. As a result, Singleton has also has had a close up perspective of Hill on game day.

“I think what jumps out are both are incredible athletes,” Singleton said. “They can compete at anything from basketball to shooting marbles. They will do well. The agility they both possess is just not normal. When I see Taysom, I can see Steve Young in a different uniform.”

Much of Young’s skills were second nature, just instinctive. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, the two-time NFL MVP was a strikingly similar physical talent to Hill.

“None of the running plays were designed for Steve,” continued Singleton. “When he called a play, he read the defense. He would go through second and third reads, then tuck and go. He was tough. That’s what I see in Taysom. They are both tough football players.”

Young was a first-time starter in San Francisco at age 30 in 1991. Hill will turn 30 in August. The former backed up a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest players ever in Montana. Taysom is locked behind a future Canton entrant and greatest players ever in Drew Brees. With six NFL passer rating titles and a Super Bowl victory, Young’s hard work and patience eventually paid dividends.

“Steve was biting at the bit to play,” Singleton recalled. “He was very impatient. He wanted to be a pocket passer. He became an accurate passer. Steve was always the smartest guy in the room, no matter who else was in that room. He passed the Bar to become a lawyer. He is so articulate, chooses his words. He has a wit to him.”

Singleton points out a specific moment when Young was tested physically as a starter. It was a turning point in the season and his career.

In 1994, the Niners lost to Randall Cunningham and the Philadelphia Eagles, 40-8, at Candlestick Park. The following week on the road for Monday Night Football against the feisty Detroit Lions, the Niners trailed 14-0 in the second quarter. Young was taking a physical beating from the Lions’ defense.

A five-yard scoring toss from Young to Singleton in the fourth quarter completed a rally and put the game out of reach as the visitors won 27-21.

“He had a will to win,” Singleton said. “He got off the mat. He did what he said he would do and willed us to a win. That game turned our season around. We eventually won Super Bowl XXIX.”

San Francisco dominated San Diego to win the Lombardi Trophy, 49-26.

Young had plenty of help from a great franchise and super offensive coaching. Mike Shanahan was the 49ers offensive coordinator that season.

“He (Shanahan) mastered matchup problems (for defenses),” Singleton said. “He is second to nobody. He is an offensive genius.”

Shanahan went on to win consecutive Super Bowl titles in Denver with another Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway.

The Niners were loaded with weapons for Young, including the best receiver of all time, Jerry Rice. Add in other stars like wideout John Taylor, running back Ricky Watters and a superb offensive line. Young became great, but he had the players around him to be successful.

With good players around him, Singleton envisions a bright future for Hill and the New Orleans Saints, if all approach it with the correct frame of mind.

“It’s all business,” Singleton said. “If they committed to him, it would be interesting to see how far he could take the team. Being a utility guy is taking its toll, as a runner, receiver and blocker.”

Like Young, Hill will need to modify his game to last in the lineup as a full-time starter behind center.

“Hill has to decide, will he be a runner or a quarterback who puts in the work,” Singleton said. “Steve Young made up his mind that he didn’t want to be just a running quarterback. I think Taysom can do it. The offense would have to change.”

With Brees approaching the twilight of his career and the recent addition of former top overall draft pick Jameis Winston, Sean Payton and staff will soon reach a crossroads with their quarterback depth chart.

When an individual athlete is challenged, sometimes you will witness greatness as an unproven player rises to the top. Singleton was among some of the NFL’s all time greats who knew what it took to reach their potential.

“I watched the greatness of Jerry Rice make a play work that was not the way the play was designed,” Singleton said. “You cannot be a part-timer. I think, if Taysom Hill is given the green light, you’ll see a different player.”

The light is not green yet, but that time is not far off.

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Rene Nadeau

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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