This off-season, after 15 years that saw him throw for 68,010 yards and 491 TDs, Saints quarterback Drew Brees retired. While we need only wait five years to see Brees enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the immediate concern, especially for Saints fans, is who is the next man up. For the 2021 season, the options seem to be Swiss Army Knife Taysom Hill or former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston.
If it was up to me, I’d go with Hill. I’ve long been a supporter, and I think he could be good at the job. But let’s consider the options and what Hill might mean to the Saints’ other fantasy assets—Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
A Successful Audition
In 2020, Brees broke several ribs and missed four games. With both Hill and Winston on the roster, Saints’ coach, Sean Payton, elected Hill in at starting quarterback. In that four-game sample, Hill led the Saints to a 3-1 record and looked good doing it.
Hill finished with 928 passing yards and four TDs with only two INTs. He completed 72.7 percent of his passes and rushed for 209 yards and four TDs in those starts. Hill was a boon to fantasy players during that four-game stretch, too, finishing as QB6 in that stretch. (And if you played ESPN, he was a boon to those needing a TE for a couple of weeks, too.)
Hill has been a Jack of All Trades for the Saints during his four-year career, especially the past three seasons. He’s played all over the field, rushing for 809 yards and 11 TDs, also catching 30 passes for 336 yards and seven TDs. The Saints thought enough of Hill to place a first-round tender on him before signing him to a two-year deal. This off-season, he got a restructured contract that could turn into a massive deal but is essentially a contract for the 2021 season.
The Saints have demonstrated continual faith in Hill to be a vital part of the team’s offense. The move to start him instead of Winston when Brees was injured in 2020 can’t be overlooked. But it’s hardly the only factor in the race.
Winston signed a one-year deal in 2020 to serve as a backup for the Saints. When Brees got hurt and Hill ascended to the starting position, Winston remained on the bench. During his year with the Saints, Winston threw just 11 regular-season passes, completing seven for 75 yards. But the Saints re-signed Winston again this off-season to a modest one-year deal with incentives. He is the primary competition with Hill for the Saints’ starting quarterback job.
Winston has been successful on the field in the past. The first overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in five seasons there, he threw for 19,737 yards and 121 TDs. In his final season in Tampa Bay, he threw for 5,109 yards and 33 TDs, good enough to make him QB3 for the season. But he also threw 30 INTs that season, which was part of the reason the Buccaneers let him go. Winston can bring rewards, but he also brings some high risk.
With Winston and Hill essentially on one-year contracts, 2021 is likely an audition year for the long-term job. It’s also possible, if not likely, the Saints draft a quarterback at some point in the 2021 draft. And if the year doesn’t go well, the Saints have the freedom to explore other options for 2022 and the future.
The other argument often made by fantasy players in favor of Winston is the benefit to the Saints’ other fantasy-relevant players, namely Thomas and Kamara. While Winston led an offense that produced WR2 (Chris Godwin) and WR8 (Mike Evans) in 2019 in Tampa Bay, the Saints’ best players didn’t fare as robustly with Hill under center in 2020.
Thomas struggled to stay on the field in 2020, but he had his best four games of the season with Hill at quarterback. Thomas caught 30 passes for 343 yards in those four games. That had him sitting at WR23 for that stretch, a number that would have been stronger if he’d gotten a TD, but not a bad PPR return for those who played Thomas.
The bigger concern is likely Kamara, who finished as RB2 for the season. During that four-game stretch, Kamara rushed for 237 yards and three TDs. That was good enough for him to be RB11, a fall off from his season finish, but still RB1 numbers. As a receiver, Kamara caught just ten passes in those four games. After getting off to a slow start, Kamara saw ten targets, catching seven passes for 44 yards in Hill’s final start. It’s too small of a sample size to draw conclusive evidence, but that final start and Kamara’s overall four-week scoring is promising.
While Winston has often produced big passing numbers, it’s clear that Thomas and Kamara were viable starting options while Hill was at the helm. And Hill himself was a solid starting option for fantasy players.
I get the appeal of Winston, especially for fantasy. He’s a former top prospect and a more traditional quarterback prospect. Hill has often been compared to Tim Tebow, and with his ability to run, it makes some sense. But Tebow threw for 50 percent as a rookie, appearing in three games, and just 46.5 in 11 starts his second season. His success as a passer was never on par with the sample we saw from Hill in 2020. I like Hill, and I think he’s a winner. For fantasy purposes, I’m not afraid of what it would mean for Thomas and Kamara. I love the upside of having Hill in my lineup. Winston has upside but has shown a tendency to turn the ball over. Hill finds a way to win, he’s a fierce competitor, and I think he’s the man to get the Saints back to the playoffs in 2021 and beyond.
Matthew Fox is a life-long Denver Broncos fan. Find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734