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Tom Smart, Deseret News, File

Ben Anderson: I was wrong about Taysom Hill

By Ben Anderson  |  Posted Sep 12th, 2017 @ 10:18am


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SALT LAKE CITY — Taysom Hill didn’t play Monday night as the New Orleans Saints matched up against the Minnesota Vikings in a rather uninteresting "Monday Night Football" game. The Vikings cruised past the Saints 29-19 in a game that even had Taysom Hill suited up for, he still wouldn’t have played. Chase Daniel, the Saints' backup quarterback behind Drew Brees, didn’t touch the field, despite his team trailing multiple scores throughout the fourth quarter.

And still, Hill’s mere appearance on the sidelines as a quarterback in the NFL was enough to prove me wrong on his career as a football player.

Hill was an incredible college player at BYU. During his sophomore season, he accounted for more than 4,000 yards of offense by himself and 29 touchdowns. His highlight reel style of play had fans and media members alike talking about a potential Heisman Trophy campaign as an upperclassman. He was a joy to watch.

He appeared to be living up to the hype in 2014, including a miraculous win over the Texas Longhorns, hurdling his way over defenders in what proved to be the most memorable play of his career in a BYU uniform, on his way to a 4-0 start to the season.

Then it all changed.

Hill fractured his leg against in-state rival Utah State, and his season was over, as were BYU’s hopes of an undefeated season and playing in one of college football’s higher-profile bowl games.

Hill returned as the starter in 2015 and lasted less than one full game before breaking his foot and, again, being ruled out for the season.

Mind you, this was Hill’s third season-ending injury, having torn ligaments in his knee on a botched victory formation play call, also against Utah State.

Had Hill stayed healthy and built upon his sophomore season, I would have believed he’d have had a chance at making an NFL roster. While he wasn’t an upper-echelon downfield passer, his 66 percent completions percentage in his first full year as a starter, alongside his elite athleticism, was promising enough that a team may have been willing to take a chance on him developing his skills further in the NFL.

After his third major injury, I counted him out. Hill’s maturing body was no longer able to withstand his rough-and-tumble style of play. And as he’d shown an unwillingness to develop as a passer, rather than a playmaker with his legs, I no longer believed he could return as college QB.

When Hill went down in the 2015 season opener against Nebraska, it was under less than ideal circumstances for an aging, injury-prone signal caller.

Stepping in behind Hill was Tanner Mangum, a four-star, pro-style quarterback, the kind of quarterback BYU showed off during its glory years in the ’80s and ’90s. Mangum took the reins against Nebraska, completing a Hail Mary from midfield as time expired to win the season opener on the road.

Then he followed it up again the next week with a similar play against Boise State.

Mangum hadn’t just filled in for Hill; he’d excelled in his absence. Mangum went on to finish the season 8-4 as a starter and broke the freshman record for passing yards with 3,377.

That offseason, BYU’s head coach Bronco Mendenhall left the school to take the same position with the University of Virginia and was replaced by former BYU fullback Kalani Sitake. Perhaps more importantly, BYU’s offensive coordinator Robert Anae was replaced by former BYU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer. With Detmer wanting to bring a more aggressive passing attack to BYU, Mangum seemed like a shoo-in to retain his spot as the Cougars' starting quarterback.

I professed that offseason that Mangum should be the starter and face of the new-look BYU offense.

Again, I was wrong.

Hill won the starting role in fall camp over Mangum and led BYU to a Week 1 victory over Arizona on the road, the first game of Sitake and Detmer’s careers as coaches at BYU.

Then it seemed to fall apart.

BYU lost its next three games to Utah, UCLA and West Virginia. Hill combined to throw for 70 of 122, just a 57 percent completion percentage, and had a 3 to 6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Hill’s opportunities to operate as a passing quarterback were taken away. After averaging 37.5 passing attempts per game through BYU’s first four games, Hill’s attempts were rolled back to under 29 per game over the next seven games, and his attempt to transform as a pro-style quarterback appeared to have stalled.

And again, it got worse.

What little hope there was that Hill had overcome his injury concerns, having started 12 consecutive games in his final season at BYU, was dashed in the final week of the season, coincidentally against Utah State one last time.

Hill left BYU, at 26 years old, having suffered four serious season-ending injuries, struggling to throw the ball, ending his career completing 58 percent of his passes, with a mediocre 41 to 31 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

I was sure Hill was doomed to live out his football days as one of the great what-ifs in BYU history, rather than as a future pro.

The NFL draft came and went, without Hill getting selected.

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He signed a long-shot, free-agent deal to play with the Green Bay Packers, a team with two quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley who were sure bets to make it atop the depth chart.

Hill found himself in a battle with the previous season’s third-string quarterback in Green Bay, Joe Callahan, and quickly made a name for himself in the preseason, earning reps over the second-year pro. Hill survived to the final string of cuts in Green Bay before they ultimately decided to go with just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, placing the former Cougar on waivers, planning to sign him to their practice squad.

There’s nothing wrong with being a practice squad player in the NFL. It pays $7,200 each week you’re on the roster, totaling more than $100,000 if you can maintain the job for an entire season. It’s a better than respectable living but admittedly doesn’t quite match the allure and glamour of making an NFL roster.

When Hill got cut by Green Bay, I again thought his career was coming to an end. Hill would bounce around the NFL as many practice roster players do, never getting that opportunity to suit up for a full-time roster.

Then the Saints came calling. They signed Hill off waivers on the final day of roster cuts, adding him to their opening-day 53-man roster.

It doesn’t matter that Hill wasn’t in uniform Monday night. It doesn’t matter if he never suits up for the Saints and never sees a live snap of action. It doesn’t matter if he’s cut early in the season or shifted down to the team’s practice squad.

I didn’t think Taysom Hill would return to BYU after suffering his third season-ending injury in 25 games at BYU. I didn’t think he could win the starting job at BYU when he did return over a record-breaking freshman in a new offensive system. I didn’t think he could overcome a fourth season-ending injury to get an invite to an NFL camp. I didn’t think he could make it to the final round of cuts for an NFL roster or get signed by another team once he was waived.

And Monday night, he sat on the sidelines as a member of the New Orleans Saints' opening-day roster.

For one final time, I was wrong about Taysom Hill. I won’t bet against him again.

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