During his five years in the NFL, he’s caught 47 passes for 388 yards and seven touchdowns; passed for 2,025 yards and eight TDs; and run for 1,183 yards and 16 TDs. How many players can match him as a triple threat, especially in this era of specialization?
Hill has played tight end, receiver, running back, quarterback and several positions on special teams, including kick returner. And yet all he really wanted to be was a starting quarterback. He has been a quarterback-in-waiting his entire pro career, playing caddie to future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, while finding full-time work doing all those other things. It’s what kept him in the league..
Now it’s clear he won’t ever be a full-time starting quarterback in the NFL.
Heading into the 2022 season, which begins this week, Hill has been moved to tight end – second on the depth chart. Jameis Winston, an interception machine, is the starter. Hill isn’t the backup quarterback either — that role is filled by Andy Dalton.
“Things aren’t up to me,” Hill told reporters. “And so, with that being said, I’m willing to do what I need to do to help us win football games. I’m at peace with that. … I love playing, and so it creates opportunities for me to add value and be on the field. … That’s the nature of the NFL. This isn’t necessarily what I want, it’s what’s best for the team and I’m good with that.”
Hill had plenty of opportunities to show that he is an NFL-caliber quarterback. In 2020, Brees was injured. Hill, who had signed a two-year deal worth $21 million that spring, started the next four games and the Saints won three of them. He threw for only 78 yards in one outing, but topped 200 yards in the other three games. He completed a superb 72% of his passes, but the devil was in the details: only four went for touchdowns (against three interceptions) and he averaged only 7.3 yards per attempt.
Still, it seemed evident that the Saints saw him as their quarterback of the future at the time. They signed him to another contract extension the same day that Brees announced his retirement in the spring of 2021. NFL reporter Adam Schefter reported the details later in a tweet — “(It) is unique and unlike other contracts because it pays him a $40 million base salary for the role that he’s currently playing, and up to an additional $55 million if he does become the Saints’ starting QB for the next four seasons.”
But in training camp Hill was not only beaten out for the starting quarterback job by Winston, he was beaten out by Trevor Siemian as the backup. Hill resumed his jack-of-all-trades role. Weeks later, he was promoted to starting quarterback after Winston suffered a knee injury.
Hill threw four interceptions (and two touchdown passes) and ran for 101 yards in a loss to the Cowboys. The Saints won Hill’s next two starts, but the quarterback failed to top 175 yards in either game and threw no touchdown passes. After being benched for a week by a positive COVID-19 test, he started the last two games of the season — both wins — but his passing performance was the same (222 and 107 yards, respectively), and, to make matters worse, he suffered a Lisfranc injury that required surgery in the offseason. He threw 134 passes that season, resulting in four TDs and five interceptions.
Coach Sean Payton retired after the season and was replaced by Dennis Allen, who moved Hill to tight end. That appears to be the end of Hill’s chance to be an NFL quarterback.
As good as Hill is as an overall football player, he never has been a stellar passer. A closer look at his passing stats at BYU reveals two key numbers — his yards per attempt was a weak 6.8 and his touchdowns-to-interception ratio was 43-31 for an overall passer rating of 121.4 — one of the lowest ever by a BYU starting quarterback. He was a superb running quarterback, but that wasn’t enough to offset his shortcomings as a passer, which is why he was not drafted.
Not even a five-year apprenticeship in the NFL has brought enough improvement to make him a starting quarterback. Hill’s age doesn’t help. He started his pro career late, at age 27, because he served a two-year church mission and, due to injuries, played an extra season at BYU. Now 32, he will be primarily a tight end and special teams player.
Hill’s misgivings notwithstanding, he’s made a name for himself, not to mention a lot of money, by playing a variety of roles. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted and was cut by the first team that signed him.