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Taysom or Jameis? What people are saying about the Saints’ QB competition ahead of training camp

The battle to replace Drew Brees will hit a fever pitch when the New Orleans Saints open training camp later this month

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New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Jameis Winston (2) and Taysom Hill (7) go through drills during practice.

New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Jameis Winston (2) and Taysom Hill (7) go through drills during practice at their NFL training facility in Metairie, La., Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Both Winston and Hill are in competition to replace the now-retired Drew Brees.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

For a decade and a half, the New Orleans Saints didn’t have to worry about who was quarterbacking their team. Having an All-Pro and future Hall of Famer like Drew Brees will do that.

Now with Brees retired, though, the Saints — winners of the past four NFC South titles — must find a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2005, and hope he can deliver immediately for a franchise that looks like it will be a Super Bowl contender again in 2021.

New Orleans kicks off training camp at the end of the month, and the key question at camp will revolve around Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill

How Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill match up

ESPN’s Jeff Darlington sees a need for choosing a starting quarterback early in training camp.

“The Saints competition is especially intriguing because we’re talking about two different types of quarterbacks,” Darlington said Tuesday on “SportsCenter,” per 247 Sports. “So (Saints coach) Sean Payton not only has to make this decision — that’s really, quite frankly, up in the air right now between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston — but he actually has to do it pretty quickly. You would think that he’d want to build his offense around whichever player he selects — the more-conventional Jameis Winston or the ... more eccentric Taysom Hill. So certainly a decision that will weigh heavily on Sean Payton in the very early goings of training camp.”

Winston has the better resume. He started for five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before joining New Orleans last year, and he is known for airing it out, throwing for nearly 20,000 yards and more than 120 touchdowns in his NFL career. He also has a reputation for turning the ball over, though, like his 2019 season when Winston threw for 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.  

Hill, the former BYU dual-threat star, is seen by many as the dark horse to win the starting job, seeing as how he’s been utilized as a do-everything utility player much more than as a quarterback during his four NFL seasons. When Brees was hurt last season, though, Hill was the one to replace him, going 3-1 as a starter while finishing the season with 928 passing yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions, while also rushing for 457 yards and eight touchdowns. He also lost five fumbles. 

Who will emerge as the Saints’ starting quarterback?

If the team is leaning one way or another toward either Winston or Hill, Saints leaders aren’t hinting at who will emerge the starter. Saints All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan showed a vote of confidence in both quarterbacks during an appearance on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football,” adding the decision is “beyond my pay grade.”

“At the end of the day, it’s all about who’s going to put us in the best position of winning,” Jordan told the GMF hosts. “I do know that we have a baller in Jameis Winston, a guy who you know can release that thing in the air. ... You know he’s going to take deep shots, he’s going to take a lot of deep throws. And at the same time, he’s had a year under Sean’s tutelage and watching Drew Brees. So he’s only going to get better, in my mind.

“Then, of course, you talk about Taysom, and you know after last year we went 3-1 with him, so we know we can win at a high clip with him. It’s going to be fun and interesting to see who ends up being the lead quarterback, if that is such a discussion. It’s beyond my pay grade. And I like to say not many things are beyond my pay grade, but that is.”

Even with Brees no longer on the team, Payton discussed how both Winston and Hill have benefited from learning alongside him, and how it’s helped prepare them for this opportunity.  

“I think both of the players we’re talking about have had the benefit of training, being in meeting rooms with him, and seeing the daily grind. And I think we go from there,” Payton said last week during an “NFL Total Access” segment on NFL Network. “Obviously, there’s a high bar for our team. … And I think both of those guys will rise to the challenge. They both understand the importance of the reps that we’re going to have in this upcoming training camp. And there is a little bit of a standard and it’s kind of high, and so that’s OK.”

Could Hill’s versatility work against him?

Hill has played a variety of roles for New Orleans since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2017, from playing on special teams to lining up at tight end and H back, in addition to playing some snaps at quarterback. 

Could that versatility actually work against Hill, if the Saints would rather use him in a similar role while promoting Winston into the starting QB spot? 

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis joined the “Adam Schein Podcast” recently and talked about why the franchise values him so much. While Loomis’ description of Hill lends itself to questions about whether New Orleans truly sees him as a starting quarterback or someone better suited to fill a utility role, his answer also underscores the value the Saints see in Hill.

“Well look, he’s a tremendous athlete, No. 1,” Loomis said, per Pro Football Talk. “He’s got a tremendous arm. He’s got tremendous speed, strength. Smart football player. Look, for what he’s done for us, to date, he has just been a great football player. I think he can be, you know, a really top-flight tight end. He can be a top-flight H-back in our league. And so first of all he’s a really great football player, but he’s got mobility. 

“We’ve all seen him run the ball. Catch the ball. He can throw it. He’s got a lot of God-given talent. And he’s a smart football player as well, and he’s got good leadership skills. So, we’re going to see how all this shakes out, but we’re definitely high on Taysom.”