NFL

Winston over Hill the obvious choice for Saints coach Payton

By Sports Desk August 27, 2021

The New Orleans Saints have reportedly decided on their starting quarterback, with head coach Sean Payton going with the reclamation project over the relative unknown.

According to multiple reports, Jameis Winston will be the Saints' starter under center when they face the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 on September 12.

Winston has won the job over Taysom Hill, who started four games at quarterback last season when Drew Brees was out injured.

But it is Winston who has the unenviable task of succeeding future Hall of Famer Brees, who ended his career last season as the all-time leader in passing yards with 80,358.

Winston is the owner of an unwanted record following his last season as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019.

He undoubtedly offers more upside than a 42-year-old Brees would have, but Payton's challenge in turning Winston's career around is a sizeable one.

30 for 30

Winston ended his Buccaneers career in 2019 with a season that epitomised his maddening inconsistency.

He led the league in passing yards with 5,109 but became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. 

The former number one overall pick tossed 33 scores, but his final throw for the Bucs was his 30th interception that was returned for a touchdown. His seven picks returned for touchdowns set an NFL record.

It could have been substantially worse for Winston. Per Stats Perform data, he ended the 2019 season with 46 pickable passes, with his interceptable pass percentage of 7.69 the highest of any quarterback with at least 100 attempts.

Winston's well-thrown percentage of 70.2 was fourth-worst in the NFL. By contrast, Brees produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 84.6% of his passes in 2019, the highest rate in the NFL.

Payton will obviously hope to minimize Winston's penchant for turnovers and make the most of his abilities as a downfield thrower. He was second in air yards per attempt (10.70) in his final year for Tampa Bay. Brees' average of 6.83 that year was the fifth-worst in the league and he declined to 6.41 per attempt last season.

Winston led the league with 1,158 passing yards on 94 attempts of 21 or more air yards in 2019 and, while his average of 12.32 passing yards on those attempts was only eighth among quarterbacks with 50 such throws, he is a signal-caller who can raise the ceiling in a manner beyond the Brees of 2020 or backup Hill.

Hill's unconvincing audition

Hill went 3-1 in his four games in relief of Brees last year, though one of those victories came against a Denver Broncos team fielding wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback following a coronavirus outbreak.

And there was little in his audition last year to convince he is worthy of a promotion from backup and utility player to starting quarterback.

Indeed, Hill threw a pickable pass on 5.93 of his 118 attempts, the eighth-highest rate in the NFL, and delivered a well-thrown ball just 72.9% of the time (fifth-worst).

He did so while averaging only 7.1 air yards per attempt. Only nine quarterbacks in the league averaged fewer in 2020.

Payton will have made his decision based on Winston and Hill's respective performances in training camp and preseason. However, Hill's play last season showed he lacks the accuracy of Brees and brings no added upside as a downfield thrower.

The path to the playoffs will be more difficult for a Saints team that has lost several key players on both sides of the ball in the offseason.

But Payton has decided their best route is with Winston as the starter and Hill reprising his role as a part-time quarterback whose athleticism can help him make an impact lined up in the backfield and as a receiver.

Whether Payton is vindicated remains to be seen, but all the numbers suggest his bet on Winston over Hill is the right call.

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