Taysom Hill's not perfect, but shows why Saints think he could succeed Drew Brees

METAIRIE, La. -- Taysom Hill hasn't been perfect. He is not a finished product. And he is no sure thing to become the New Orleans Saints' long-term successor to Drew Brees.

But after three starts and three victories as Brees' injury replacement, including his best performance to date in Sunday's 21-16 victory at Atlanta, Hill has at least done enough to prove that he deserves a chance at the gig. And he should be taken seriously as a leading candidate.

It's unclear how much longer Hill's audition will last. The 41-year-old Brees is eligible to return from injured reserve this week, and he has not yet ruled out the possibility that he could return from 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung in Week 14 at Philadelphia.

“Maybe, we'll see. I'm just taking it one day at a time,” Brees said Sunday night in his weekly interview with Cox Sports Television. “I know I sound like a broken record -- kind of sound that way to myself. But listen, I'm getting antsy, I want to play. But I also know there's a process with healing here and there's kind of some benchmarks I need to hit in order to get back out there.

“I think just overall I'm feeling better, [have the] ability to move better, the flexibility, the strength, all that stuff. It's just one step at a time, and I think I've got the best team working on it.”

There is still a good chance that Hill will start one or more games before Brees returns. But if Sunday was his last start, it was an important sort of “prove it” moment for his potential to become a full-time NFL quarterback.

Again, he wasn't perfect. He had a shaky fourth quarter, including a costly lost fumble while the Saints were trying to close out their victory.

But up until that fourth quarter, Hill proved that his first start against the Falcons two weeks ago was no fluke.

He completed 27-of-37 passes for 232 yards and the first two touchdown passes of his career -- once again showing that he can be an effective pocket passer, even though the Falcons switched up their coverage looks in the rematch. At one point, Hill completed 10 straight passes on third downs, converting eight of them.

He also ran 14 times for 83 yards, including a 43-yard scramble.

The lost fumble came with 11:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, when the Saints were trying to build on their 21-9 lead at Atlanta's 5-yard line. Hill tried to throw the ball away to avoid a sack, but he got hit before he could release it. Later in the fourth quarter, Hill also fumbled the ball out of bounds on a run play.

“I think his third downs all game were strong. I thought his performance was strong,” said Saints coach Sean Payton -- who blamed himself for putting Hill in a bad position with his playcall on the fumble, while still stressing that Hill needs to improve his ball security as a runner.

Payton has consistently defended Hill, insisting last week that Hill played “just how I wanted him to play” in a conservative game plan at Denver. Hill looked lackluster in that game while completing just 9-of-16 passes for 78 yards with an interception, but the Saints cruised to a 31-3 win against a Broncos team with no quarterbacks available because of COVID protocols.

All told, Hill has completed 54-of-76 passes in his three starts (71.1%) for 543 yards, two TDs and one interception. He has run the ball 34 times for 176 yards, four TDs and two lost fumbles.

“I don't care as much as people might think about statistics and all that stuff. At the end of the day, I'm happy we've gotten three wins. So that is the statistic I care most about,” Hill said after Sunday's game, while acknowledging his regret over the fumble. “As far as my overall development, I feel like I'm becoming more and more comfortable operating the offense, and I feel like there are so many ways that I can continue to get better.”

Essentially, Hill is like any other young developmental prospect at QB, even as a 30-year-old late bloomer. Highs and lows should be expected. And it remains to be seen whether or not he will ultimately pan out.

But at the very least, Hill has been able to display the potential that the Saints saw internally when they spent the past few years touting him as a QB prospect and signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract extension this past offseason. Turns out he isn't just a gimmick, as so many critics suggested.