This is how Mitch Mathews likes to explain it.
Because he knows, but admits that he doesn’t know the whole story. But he kind of does. He’s already seen it himself.
When the New Orleans Saints signed Taysom Hill, they had tape on the former BYU quarterback, who could do plenty with the ball in his hands. They had tape on him from his short stint with the Green Bay Packers, too. But they hadn’t felt the Taysom Hill Experience first-hand. Not yet. So when Hill got out there in that No. 7 jersey, Mathews knows Saints coach Sean Payton and his staff were instantly mesmerized. That’s the adjective Mathews, the former BYU wide receiver, uses when explaining how Hill has become a one-man evolution in the NFL.
“It causes you to be mesmerized. You’ve never seen anything like that. It makes you think, ‘Let me see what I can do with this guy. Let me see how far I can take this,’” Mathews explained.
Payton, one of the preeminent offensive minds in the game, indeed saw something he’d never seen before. And he ran with it. Just like the way Mathews, who spent four years playing alongside Hill, thought he would.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has revolutionized the league, now on a team considered to be among favorites to challenge for a Super Bowl in a few weeks. Taysom Hill is really everywhere. Especially if you’re an opponent trying to figure out where he’ll be. That’s a tough ask to figure out in a film room, let alone under the lights, inside a raucous Superdome, wondering where the league’s newest, leading edge player is lined up. You also have to figure out how to block him bursting in trying to get his hands on a punt. Or try wrestling him down to the ground as he comes barreling down the field as a kickoff returner.
“This town is Saints crazy, has been for decades, and players quickly become cult heroes here,” said Jeff Duncan, sports columnist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. “Taysom Hill immediately vaulted to the top of that world earlier this season.”
He got there by saying yes, when pretty much everyone else in his shoes would say no.
Every NFL franchise had a representative in attendance during that day in Provo.
Scouts from all 32 teams all saw for themselves. They saw what he could do.
So when it came time to turn in seven rounds of draft cards and after hundreds of names were announced over the PA system at the 2017 NFL Draft, each team took a collective pass. Hill had to stay near his phone, wondering if it would ever buzz. At BYU’s 2017 Pro Day, Hill showed off that top-end speed, the same kind he showed off when he once tore apart the Texas Longhorns single-handedly, running a 4.4 40-yard dash.
Hill took snaps, too. He fired passes to former teammates as scouts looked on. But when it was time to shift gears, to try something else, something new, not what he envisioned his whole life, Hill said yes. That day in Provo, Taysom Hill became a running back for a few snaps.
“That’s a hard thing when, in your mind, you’re one of the top quarterbacks in the country, and rightfully so,” former BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said. “He was a great quarterback.”
Hill’s years in Provo were filled with the spectacular and the somber. A man friends and family say is cut from a different cloth — some still compare his physical makeup to that of a Greek God — endured four different season-ending injuries as BYU’s starting quarterback. The last coming his senior year, when an elbow injury derailed his last year of college eligibility. He entered the unknowns a 26-year-old with surgically-repaired bones and tendons in his arms and legs, lasting battle scars from those games as BYU’s leading man.
“Most people would just hang it up and say, ‘It wasn’t meant to be,’” said Taysom’s father, Doug. “He never did. He never gave up. He continued to battle back and look at where it’s got him. That shows the character of where he’s at today.”
Him changing the game this way has quickly quieted the doubters, too.
“Anyone that has ever said anything bad about him is dead wrong,” said Mathews.
Those who know Hill, who’ve helped him get here, who’ve studied why he’s here doing what he’s doing want you to know that just because he can make all this look so easy, it doesn’t mean just anyone can do it. The opposite, in fact. This won’t be like the fad of the “Wildcat” of a decade ago when running backs lined up in shotgun behind center, they say.
“Unless you can go and find a whole bunch more Taysoms,” Mathews said.
This is only happening because of a rare blend of blessed physical attributes and smarts. This is more than just waiting for a snap count to expire. It’s Hill reading defenses like the quarterback he’s been his whole life, knowing that in short-yardage or goal-line situations, he might need to check out of a certain call with a game on the line.
“Will people try and copy it? Find me another guy that could do all of that stuff,” said ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck. “You’re asking a lot of that guy, and by the way, it’s 4th-and-1 and we’re asking you to run over that linebacker if he meets you in the hole. You’ve got to check a lot of boxes to be able to do what he can do.”
Detmer made a stop at Saints training camp over the summer. He saw Hill bounce around between positional group meetings. He’s in the quarterbacks room and has to transition to special teams soon after. That’s his life now, this niche carved out by his own ability and an established coach willing to take a flier on a guy who everyone knew could do so much, but it was Payton who figured out how to utilize him in a way that’s never been done in the modern era of football.
“That’s not an easy thing,” Detmer said. “I think people kind of take that for granted. He’s in every meeting and has to understand every position.”
He’s got it down.
“I’m a quarterback, and I want to play quarterback,” Hill said earlier this year. “At the end of the day, though, I don’t want to sit on the bench … Like I’ve told [the coaches] before, whatever I can do to get on the field and help our team win, I’m all for it.”
It’s Hill’s development in his exclusive role that’s allowed an already-stacked Saints team to be that much more of a threat offensively and on special teams. Hill blocked a punt earlier this year against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that spurred a comeback win on the road. He’s converted fake punts (both passing and running), rushed for 196 yards on 37 carried and two touchdowns and caught three passes.
“They would be a good offensive team without him,” said Hasselbeck. “Then you throw him into the mix and you now are defending players that you would never ordinarily see from a team where Drew Brees is the starting quarterback.”
The Big Easy has fallen for the kid from Pocatello, Idaho. The Saints digital team recently sent staffers to Hill’s hometown to produce a 12-minute long video profile piece of his path to the NFL. How many third-string quarterbacks get that sort of star treatment? Hill, turns out, isn’t your run-of-the-mill backup QB.
Not only is he a fan favorite, he’s a hit with his teammates, too. It helps when someone sacrifices so much for the good of the team, Duncan explained. The selflessness he exemplifies permeates throughout the Saints locker room this year.
“They all rally around him because they know he’s not the typical quarterback who’s going to sit over there carrying a clipboard and wears a baseball cap,” Duncan said.
Nobody is more equipped to handle such a demanding job than Hill. His father, Doug, said it’s simplified for Hill because he was always willing to say yes, to see how far this next part of his journey in football would take him. At his Pro Day, Hill declined to specify what position he was aiming for at the next level. He was just looking to play, he said repeatedly.
“He was just willing to do whatever is asked of him when they found out his skill-set,” Doug Hill said. “That’s his niche, really. Just the opportunity to prove that.”
Taysom Hill hasn’t just taken off with the opportunity, he’s spread his wings and made a stamp on each and every game on a Super Bowl contender. Detmer compares Hill’s job to that of a utility infielder in baseball, someone who will answer the call at any number of spots on the field. His former offensive coordinator also believes his desire to be a starting QB in the NFL hasn’t waned, either. For now, he’ll stick with being the everything dude, the quarterback who might hand it off, or bulldoze a linebacker on his own, or as the fearless blitzer on a punt block unit. Or even let it fly.
He’s made it all work just fine so far.
“It shocks you that he’s doing what he’s doing because it’s never been done,” said Mathews, “but when you find out who’s behind that helmet and you find out that it’s Taysom, then you’re like, ‘Oh, then that’s not surprising at all.’”