One of the things that has gone under the radar this off season is Sean Payton uncharacteristically side stepping the smoke screens and telling the truth. Everything Payton has said this off season has come true so when he heaped high praise on Josh Hill back in March I didn’t think he was just trying to appease a fan base because of the Jimmy Graham trade when he had this to say about Josh Hill –

This Josh Hill is another player that I love. I love, when you look at his runs, jumps, height, weight, speed, you look at his measurables – and he didn’t go to the combine, thank God.

That’s high praise for somebody that has only caught 20 balls for 220 yards in his two years with the Saints. Obviously Payton see something in Hill to make that statement but if you look at the history with Payton over the years one thing has remained constant – his ability to use the individual strengths of his skill players.

While Hill may not possess the same skill set as Jimmy Graham he brings a different aspect to the position mainly his run blocking but don’t let that fool you into thinking that he’s not a threat in the passing game – he is.

So how was Josh Hill used last year? Lets take a closer look.

Below are a few screen shots of a 34 yard touchdown pass he caught against the Minnesota Vikings. I’m using this example 1st because it also highlights the influence Jimmy Graham had on the other skill position players, in this case Josh Hill.

In this first shot you can see the Vikings are in a cover one single safety set, Hill was lined up tight and Graham was wide right. As the play gets underway Graham draws two defenders when he does a quick out leaving Hill uncovered.

hill blown coverage 1
The key to this play is not only Graham drawing two defenders but Drew Brees with the pump fake to Kenny Stills going deep down the left side drawing the safety over as seen below.

HILL BLOWN COVERAGE 2

Personally I think this play was designed to go to Hill regardless if Graham drew his man off or not. I think Payton seen a mismatch with a one on one coverage if the safety bit on pump fake (he did) below is the end result.

HILL BLOWN COVERAGE 3

 

These next few screen shots are a play from the first Tampa Bay game. In this play the Saints are looking for Hill isolated on a linebacker, they get it with Tampa’s Danny Lansanah. Hill does a simple out and up wheel route, gains separation, uses his size and the end result is a 37 yard gain as seen below.

HILL 1

HILL 2HILL 3
Next up is Hill in the red zone, this play I’ve seen the Saints run more than a few times in Payton’s tenure. Hill is lined up tight and starts off in pass protection blocking the Cowboys defensive end Jack Crawford. Brees then bootlegs and rolls to his right while Hill peals off his block and rolls to his right with Brees. After that it’s simply pitch and catch and a race to the end zone as seen in the screen shots below.

HILL TD 1

HILL TD 2HILL TD 3
As I stated earlier Hill excels in one part of his game that Graham never did – run blocking. The more I watched film on Hill for this article the more I became impressed with his run blocking, he’s technically sound and can be a bit nasty at times. For the sake of space I’ll just show three screen shots of his blocking but they pretty much sum up on how he goes about his business doing it –

Against San Francisco

hill run 1

Against Atlanta

HILL RUN 2

And against Carolina

HILL RUN 3

 

In all fairness there were games that Hill was not even targeted in the passing game this past season and was used primarily as a run blocker but you can see the potential that is there. Will Josh Hill gain 1,200 yards in the air like Graham has done? not by a long shot but I can see him getting half of that which in my opinion would be more than enough (plus his blocking) to offset the loss of Graham.

Before Graham’s arrival and to a lesser extent Jeremy Shockey, the Saints tight end history under Payton had been underwhelming. I did an article a while back on this subject you can read by clicking HERE. Payton understands the importance of the position but I think he also understands the importance of the position being balanced.

I do think the Saints want to play smash mouth football at times this season with a revamped offensive line and a trio of running backs in their prime, this is where Hill will make his foot print but with his size, speed and hands he has an ability to destroy a mismatch in the passing game.

In the upcoming days I will continue to bring articles such as this highlighting players who maybe didn’t jump out at you last year such as Nick Toon, Jairus Byrd and Dannell Ellerbe but could impact the play on the field this year. So until then, as always….WHO DAT!!