Taysom Hill Proved He’s a Starting Quarterback

Taysom Hill finally got his shot to start for the New Orleans Saints and he did not disappoint. He showed good mechanics and accuracy and was routinely able to move through reads. He dealt well with pressure off of play-action, understood where his hot routes were, and his ball placement helped keep his receivers out of harms way. While it wasn’t a perfect game and he was inconsistent with his anticipation throws, it was a very good showing for his first start as a quarterback.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

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Reading the Defense

One of the more common pass game concepts that the Saints run is Dagger. It involves a clear out from the slot and a deep dig in behind it from the #1 receiver with a shallow drag from the receiver to the backside of the play. The clear out takes away the deep defenders and the shallow drag is designed to help hold the linebackers underneath which opens up space for the deep dig. This play shows the versatility that Taysom Hill brings to the quarterback position.

He did a really good job most of the game keeping his eyes up when moving in the pocket and getting outside. Taysom comes out of the play action and looks to locate where the underneath defenders are to see if they’ve gotten under the dig. As he diagnosis that, he feels pressure and has to climb up and out of the pocket. A really good indicator that he has a chance to become a legitimate starter is that he keeps his eyes up instead of relying on his legs. He sees that the dig has made its way across the field and delivers a really accurate ball on the move to his receiver.

This is that same Dagger concept but I want to use this example to show Taysom’s ball placement ability and his understanding of defenses and holes that appear. The Falcons here are bailing to a two-high safety look with the slot defender immediately turning his hips and bailing at the snap. Again, off of play-action, Taysom has to quickly diagnose this shift and process what that means for the play.

With that rotate and with no receivers releasing to the top of the screen, Taysom understands that that corner can now get under the clear out and the original middle field safety is freed up to rob anything in the middle. This means that Taysom needs to protect his receiver on the deep dig if that’s what he’s going to throw. He can’t lead him into the middle of the field because that free safety will be able to deliver a big hit or impact the throw. Taysom is able to diagnose all of that and throw to the back hip of the receiver to slow them down and prevent a big collision with the safety.

Taysom Hill showed a few good anticipation throws throughout the game as well. The guy might be 30 years old, but for a first start and his prospects of being a legitimate starter, these are some really big things at the quarterback position. Taysom consistently had a stable base which allowed him to be accurate and stay on rhythm to throw with anticipation. Here he’s seeing the space underneath the deep curl is open and begins his throwing motion just as his receiver is breaking down. These are the kinds of throws that can be problematic if you throw them late or aren’t seeing the defense well but Taysom was able to hit a number of these through the game.

He wasn’t perfect, but the throws he made were definitely good indicators. Here again, he keeps a solid base and begins his throwing motion just as the receiver is starting to break their route off and hits him at eye level for an easy completion.

Ball Placement

That ball placement is what I found most impressive.  It’s starting quarterback caliber. He’d throw back hip to slow receivers down and protect them from hits, give them balls that they could easily run with after the catch, and showed decisiveness and zip on a lot of his underneath and intermediate throws even with pressure in his face.

Understanding Blitzes

While he showed good understanding of where his hot reads were, there were a couple times where he didn’t realize he was hot. Based on what the defense is showing here, there are seven total potential rushers and the Saints are in an empty formation with no running back to help in pass protection. Taysom knows that if more than five rushers come, he has to get rid of the ball.

The Saints are running a half line slide here to the side with more potential rushers. From the center over, they’re sliding right to take care of the three “bigs” or defensive linemen to that side. Taysom Hill has to know that if either linebacker comes on a blitz to that side, he’s hot and has to throw to the area that that linebacker is blitzing from. The Saints have a drag from Michael Thomas built in that would be the route Taysom should throw since the linebacker is blitzing from that area. However, Taysom doesn’t look to check for a blitz and therefore doesn’t see the pressure coming soon enough. By the time he feels it, it’s already too late and he takes a sack.

Late Reads

While Taysom did show a number of anticipation throws, there were also some reads where he was a beat late. On his only turnover worthy throw of the day here, he’s seeing the window, but throwing it late. He initially wants the route out of the backfield to Deonte Harris but holds onto it for a beat too long. There’s a window for the drag to Thomas but it has to be thrown with anticipation. With Taysom being a beat late, the defender is able to close the opening and get a hand on the ball.

It’s a small sample size in his first start but there also may be some concern for his deep ball. Taysom Hill had no issue driving the ball on intermediate throws but the two times he tried to load up and throw deep, he ended up underthrowing his receivers. It worked out both of these times, but if he’s going to attack deep downfield, he might need to be a guy that does it on rhythm much like Drew Brees does. He doesn’t seem to be a guy that can throw it late on a broken play since he’s topping out at about 50-55 yards on these throws. That’s more than enough for normal fades and rhythm posts, but not quite enough to sling it late downfield.

Arm Strength

Running Threat

Of course, while Taysom Hill may struggle throwing deep late, he does bring his ability to scramble and run to the table which can’t be overlooked. The Saints really didn’t do anything fancy but ran this quarterback power lead play five separate times in the game. It helps the offense gain an extra blocker when the quarterback is the ball carrier and adds to Taysom’s ability and utility. In important situations, he’s able to get yards with his legs and adds another dimension to the Saints attack.

We knew Taysom Hill was a versatile player before this but I came away very impressed with his accuracy, clean mechanics, and ability to keep his eyes downfield when under pressure and outside the pocket. He’s always a threat on the ground but if he wants the opportunity to be a legitimate starting quarterback, he’s going to have to continue to put together games like he did against the Falcons. It wasn’t perfect, but it showed his ability and gave the Saints something to think about going forward. Maybe all that talk Sean Payton did about him being the next Steve Young isn’t so far off and the Saints will be set for years to come.

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Justin Fields Breakdown: The King of Columbus

If you haven’t checked out the first part of my 2021 draft prospect class breakdown, please click here to see Trevor Lawerence’s breakdown.

When Justin Fields committed to the University of Georgia out of high school, many asked why? Jake Fromm was a true freshman coming off of a National Championship game appearance and this meant Fields wouldn’t be the starter for two years minimum. However, after transferring to Ohio State and having an amazing first year as the starter, many are asking why did Georgia let this guy go? In most years he would be the odds on favorite to be the number one overall pick, but with Trevor Lawrence slinging the rock in Clemson, Fields is viewed as QB2. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but I have to say off the bat that when I watch Fields I can’t help but feel like I’m watching Dak Prescott with more upside and pure speed. And if you actually know football and don’t just listen to shows like First Take, you’ll know that’s a hell of a comparison. While I still like Lawrence a bit more, Fields is a legit franchise quarterback who will make one team very happy in the near future.

Positives

Throws an excellent deep ball

The Buckeyes didn’t ask Fields to throw deep too often, but when he did…. wow. Most throws were on the money, which most college quarterbacks struggle when attacking downfield. He did a great job of leading his receivers too, making sure that they could run after the catch. While his arm is strong enough, it isn’t elite but the accuracy is the most important part. Plenty of quarterbacks can throw far, look at past quarterback busts like Jamarcus Russell and Kyle Boller for example. Both could throw the ball a mile but couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Fields is surgical though. He sets his feet and drives the ball in a position where only his receiver can get it. For a mobile quarterback (which we’ll cover soon), being able to push the ball down the field opens up so many possibilities for the near and the future.

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Mobility

Fields claims to run a 4.4 40 yard dash time, which is elite for any position, especially quarterback. I don’t know if the tape reflects him being THAT fast, but the quickness and footwork he displays are some of the best I’ve ever seen. His feet never stop moving in the pocket and he escapes pressure effortlessly. He looks like a natural making difficult situations look easy. Ohio State likes to run the ball and incorporates a lot of zone-reads, but a season ago J.K. Dobbins couldn’t be stopped which reflects Fields modest rushing yard totals, so don’t judge his abilities based on stats alone. He does well scrambling outside the pocket and keeping his eyes down the field, showing that he’s not looking to tuck the ball and run at the first sign of pressure. I understand protecting his health, but I’d like to see more design runs for Fields and have them take advantage of one of his better traits.

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Pocket Presence

Many quarterbacks who are faster than most of the opposing team’s defenders want to run around and utilize their quickness. I mean, why wouldn’t you. They have more than likely done that their whole career and old habits are hard to break. However, fast guys eventually get slower. Fields has the comfortability in the pocket of a ten-year NFL veteran as he drops back and delivers strike after strike. He’s very fundamentally sound and at 6-3, 230 pounds, he has a good frame that makes him comfortable in the pocket knowing he can absorb a hit. Granted, he’s so quick that he’s a tough man to hit. A reason why he was able to keep 67% of his passes was that he has no problem taking a two or three-step drop and using his arm to beat teams, rather than his legs.

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Negatives

Shaky ball placement

I’m hesitant at times to say Fields is an accurate thrower because as I go through his games I’ve noticed so many missed throws that a quarterback of his talent should be making with no problem. Many times he’d have receivers open with a few yards of cushion and simply overthrow them. It’s not a mechanical issue, as he’s textbook in that department, and could just be a simple issue of being a first-year starter in college. If that’s the case, then I’m not worried. But if this continues to be a problem this upcoming season then NFL teams will surely be worried.

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Decision making overrated

For a guy who had three interceptions all year (two of them coming in the National Semi-Final), I was shocked at some of the decisions he made. Maybe it was my fault for setting expectations too high, but it seemed like every game he had an interception that was dropped or misplayed. I’m not saying he makes poor decisions regularly because that’s not entirely the case. I am saying though that you can’t consider the three interceptions as the end all be all stat. A lot of his problems derives from locking into his first option and not realizing that that option might not be your best. You can have a favorite target and look for him on most plays, but utilizing the second, third, or even fourth read is needed to be an NFL franchise quarterback. Many quarterbacks develop the mental processing of the game, but some don’t every get there and don’t have the longevity they had in mind for their careers.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, Justin Fields has the aptitude to be a successful NFL quarterback and is a very sound prospect. I envision him being a high-level starter in the NFL for a long time, but may never be in consideration for the best quarterback in the game at any point either. That’s not an insult though, he’s a proven winner and has big-play ability. My earlier comparison to Dak Prescott will continue to be the one I use, as they have the almost exact same height and weight, both mobile, and both have elite throwing ability. He’s a surefire top-five pick and I’m going to call my shot now… I can see him becoming a Washington Redskin. Ron Rivera had Cam Newton has his quarterback, with much success and Fields shares similar qualities with the upside to be more accurate with the football.

Trevor Lawrence Breakdown: The Prince That Was Promised

The story of Trevor Lawrence is known by now. The top recruit in the 2018 class broke high school records set by DeShaun Watson and led Clemson to a National Championship as a true freshman. From the moment he stepped on campus, he’s been seen as a generational talent and the probable first overall pick. Losing just one game in his two years, the stars are aligned once again for Clemson to make the National Championship game and for Lawrence to win the Heisman this season. As I break down Lawrence, what I thought coming in was confirmed. He’s a rare prospect. The term “can’t miss” is thrown around way too much, but in this case it’s deserved. Assuming he cleans up a few issues, he will become an Andrew Luck type prospect and undoubtedly become the first overall pick in the 2021 draft. Below I break down some of Lawrence’s strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths:

Arm Strength

The ball shoots out of his hand like a cannon and he makes it look so effortless. To compare, Patrick Mahomes’ top throwing speed at the combine was 55 mph and Lawrence’s top throwing speed in 2019 was 61 mph. Whether he’s in the pocket or scrambling, he’s able to get enough juice on the ball to fit throws into tight windows. As you can see below, he can throw it sixty yards in the air while making it look easy. To me, this is his best attribute as there are technical things you can clean up, but you can’t teach the arm strength he possesses.

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Mobility

I’ll break down his mobility into two parts: pure ability as a runner and throwing on the run.

As a runner, he shows great athleticism for a guy who’s listed at 6-6 and 220 pounds. Clemson runs a lot of zone reads and trusts his decision-making to make the right read. When he decides to keep the ball or they run a play designed for him (mostly counters or QB power), he shows speed and good vision to make the big play. For as much as people talk about his natural ability as a passer, his running ability is severely underrated. When the play breaks down, he’s excellent at scrambling and finding ways to pick up extra yardage. He’s never looking to run first, but teams will often blitz linebackers or drop them into coverage due to them being fearful of his arm. When this happens, he tucks the ball down and is able to make a play.

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The second part of his great running ability is the fact he keeps his eyes down the field while scrambling and is able to complete passes on the run. I see too often in college (and sometimes in the pros) that quarterbacks panic under pressure and will run without looking down the field. Lawrence can scramble out to either his left or right and has the arm strength to get the ball to his receivers. As NFL offenses get more creative and put mobile quarterbacks at a premium, Lawrence makes himself that much more valuable with his versatility and athleticism.

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Touch and Accuracy

Like a great shooter, when Lawrence gets hot he quite simply does not miss. This is evident on deeper throws that require some touch on the ball. We’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks with rocket arms, but the great ones are able to loft passes over defenders and right on target to their receivers. On these throws, Lawrence is mechanically sound (we’ll get to that later) and as you can see pushes off his back foot rather than solely using his pure arm strength. Quarterbacks who can make these throws, especially down the sideline, are ones you see starting on Sunday’s.

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Mechanics/Size

Lawrence 100% passes the eye test. He looks like he was made in a quarterback laboratory. If Lawrence is actually 6-6 as indicated on the Clemson website, it would make him tied for the tallest starting quarterback currently in the league. At 220 pounds, he could add another ten or so pounds of muscle, which will help him against bigger NFL defenders and he has the frame to put on that weight while maintaining his speed. Mechanically speaking, he has a clean release that doesn’t include a hitch or herky-jerky movement. He does a good job of using his lower body to drive the ball forward and for the most part does a decent enough job of setting his feet with smooth footwork. You’ll also notice how his feet are always moving and he’s never a statue in the pocket. It’s the little things that give you the big gains.

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Needs To Work On

Decision Making

Lawrence truly believes that he can use his arm strength to throw though any window, no matter how small it may be. Because of this, Lawrence makes a lot of bad decisions that resulted in him doubling his interception total from his freshman year and got lucky on several occasions. His whole life, he’s been able to use his arm to make any throw, even if he was staring down a receiver. However, as there’s more tape on him and the competition gets better, he’s not going to be able to get away with this. This is the mindset that many great gunslingers have which has resulted in high interception totals for all-time greats like Brett Favre, Dan Marino, and Peyton Manning. You have to take these kind of mistakes because for every head-scratching moment, they have four or five ‘wow’ moments.

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Over-throwing leading to missing open receivers

Like mentioned before, sometimes Lawrence trusts his arm too much. He’ll miss open receivers, usually by throwing high and outside, which is an indication of throwing too hard. I compare this to seeing a hard-throwing pitcher, you have to learn to contain your power and become a pitcher rather than a thrower. It’s frustrating to see because Lawrence will make so many great throws and then misses some easy ones, but it comes with the maturation of every great quarterback.

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Not Sliding/Protecting himself while running
This is just nit-picking now, but he needs to be smarter when running. I understand he’s a football player and he’s not afraid of contact, but as a franchise player he has to be cautious and make sure he can stay on the field. It may cut down on some game breaking plays like the one he had against Ohio State in the Playoff Semi-Final, but it’s going to ensure his longevity.

In conclusion, Lawrence is a special prospect and as of now would have a higher grade than recent #1 picks like Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, and Baker Mayfield. Barring an unforeseen situation, Lawrence will hear his name called first in the 2021 draft and becomes an immediate game-changer.

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Current Projection: #1 Overall Selection

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