GREEN BAY - Even if the New Orleans Saints hadn’t submitted a waiver claim Sept. 3 to scoop up quarterback Taysom Hill, it’s likely Brett Hundley still would be making the first start of his career for the Green Bay Packers this weekend.
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to think about what might have been.
An undrafted rookie from Brigham Young, Hill had the best exhibition season of any quarterback on the Packers’ roster this summer. He arrived as a 26-year-old project whose collegiate production was tempered by injury woes. He left as the most impressive player at his position outside of starter Aaron Rodgers.
By early September, as general manager Ted Thompson pondered his 53-man roster, all the explosive traits that made Hill such a thrilling collegiate player had coalesced into terrific all-around production. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 149 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 124.8. He also scrambled 10 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. He led impressive touchdown drives behind mincemeat offensive lines and with mostly unreliable skill players around him.
And while the sample size was small, Hill clearly had outplayed Hundley and second-year man Joe Callahan. He had performed so well that it was conceivable to think Hill could have pushed Hundley for the backup job with another couple months in coach Mike McCarthy’s system.
Down south, the Saints noticed the potential as well.
“I was watching the receiver (Max) McCaffrey,” Saints coach Sean Payton said in a teleconference Wednesday, “and we were looking at trying to find a way to maybe get him on our practice squad. And I kept seeing this Hill. I’m sure they played quite a bit together on the field at the same time in the preseason. Initially, I’m thinking this still can’t be Shaun Hill in the league. And then there was a scramble for 8 yards and I know it’s not Shaun Hill.
“I called (assistant general manager Jeff) Ireland in, we just kept watching the film and studied Max and then began studying Taysom. And then I think in a very short amount of time, I imagine, you began to see some quick stroke, live arm, very athletic and can run — a lot of the traits you’re looking for. The more film we just kept watching the more we kept looking to find a reason not to (claim him) and we just trusted out instincts watching him play.”
The Packers released Hill during final cuts, and shortly thereafter the Saints submitted a waiver claim to effectively call Thompson's bluff. Thompson didn’t want to keep three quarterbacks on his 53-man roster — he was content with Rodgers and Hundley — but he desperately wanted Hill to clear waivers so the Packers could re-sign him to the practice squad.
Instead, New Orleans stepped in and Hill was boarding a flight to join the Saints' 53-man roster. He has been there ever since behind starter Drew Brees and backup Chase Daniel.
“He’s doing well,” Payton said. “We’re working with him. He’ll be handling a lot of the scout team duties this week.”