John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Rookie Lynn Bowden has been called the closest thing to that, but is “that” actually important?
Let’s start with height, weight, and 40 time.
Since 2000, the NFL Scouting Combine has seen 25 players who fit these measurables: 6’1 – 6’3, 225 pounds – 235 pounds, a sub-4.5 40-yard dash. Those 25 players run the gamut from eight receivers to six running backs, seven linebackers, two safeties, and two tight ends.
This body type has produced first round picks at receiver, tight end, running back, and outside linebacker.
It features future Hall of Famers like Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson (the only two of these guys drafted in the top-15 and it so happens they were third overall picks in back-to-back years) and a couple of really good players in Demario Davis, Larry Johnson and DK Metcalf. There’s also Evan Engram, Darron Lee, Michael Boulware, Taylor Mays, Shaquem Griffin, Legedu Naanee, Quincy Enunwa, and 2020 Raiders rookie safety Tanner Muse.
Two players you won’t find on that list are Taysom Hill and Lynn Bowden, but I promise you they are relevant to that list and this post.
Not a single one of those 25 players is a quarterback, but Taysom Hill wasn’t invited to the combine. At his BYU pro day, Hill measured in just over 6’2, 230 pounds, and he ran a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash. Hill and Andre Johnson both came into the NFL as 6’2, 230 pound players who could run about the exact same speed in the 40-yard dash. Johnson had a 39” vertical and Hill had a 38.5” vertical.
Hill does come in below average (compared to these players) is broad jump, short shuttle, and three-cone drill. It’s not necessarily a big deal, but if I noted where he excelled, certainly he deserved some attention too for where he didn’t. He was also 27 and did not have a stellar stats sheet in college (43 touchdowns, 31 interceptions over 1,047 attempts in five years) but as a sophomore he did rush for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns as the full-time starter.
Then in 2018, Hill became a nationally-recognized player not because of his abilities as a passer — or even his abilities as a runner — but for one reason above all else: “This guy is a backup quarterback and he had 37 carries?”
It was unusual. Same perhaps as a rare professional two-way player, Hill was a third string QB who actually had an impact on game day. This was not Joe Webb. The Saints didn’t just talk about Hill, they played him. In Week 3, 2018, vs the Atlanta Falcons, Hill got his first three career carries and gained 39 yards. More than that, before Hill ever had his first career offensive play (he had a 47-yard kick return in Week 2), the broadcast crew was noting his appearance in the game and that there were “gadget plays” designed for him.
Over the next eight games, Hill carried the ball 29 times for 135 yards (4.66 YPC) and scored one touchdown. He was only targeted five times, catching two passes for one yard. As a passer, he had been 3-of-6 for 64 yards and a sack. New Orleans was also 8-0 in this stretch; 10-0 if we go back to Hill’s return in Week 2.
The next week, Hill had his first 0-carry game since Week 2 and the Saints lost to the Dallas Cowboys 13-10. Coincidence?
With that “Tayso-mentum” into 2019, there was a lot of talk about how New Orleans was planning to “bridge” from Drew Brees to a future with Hill at QB. With Hill as the future of QB. And if there’s 1,000 things I’ve learned about football fans, one of those things is that they hate to admit defeat or slow down media-generated hype.
Not that I’m saying Hill is bad or that Hill is not important to the Saints, but even with another season in the offense — at age 29 — he only had a moderate statistical impact with zero additional evidence that he can play quarterback.
As a runner, Hill had 27 carries for 156 yards. His 5.8 YPC average is impressive in a vacuum, but most running backs are at 27 carries before the end of Week 2. Many start with impressive YPC averages and end the season with something much different. It’s a tiny sample size and Hill scored one rushing touchdown.
His future then shifted to being a receiver, as Hill was targeted 22 times and he caught 19 of those passes for 234 yards. Hill’s 12.32 yards per reception average is fine, his 10.64 yards per target average is great, but neither stand up against sample size. However, six of those 19 catches were touchdowns and they were 6-0 when he scored.
That was not true in the playoffs.
Hill had a career-high 50 rushing yards (on four carries) in the wild card round against the Minnesota Vikings, adding a 50-yard pass (longest of his career) and two catches for 25 yards with a touchdown. He played in 85% of the special teams snaps, which is par for Hill. In the game of his life, Hill’s Saints lost 26-20. Oh well. Not his fault, certainly.
Through two seasons, Hill, who turns 30 in August, has rushed for 352 yards and three touchdowns while catching 22 passes for 238 yards and six touchdowns. People sometimes refer to him as a “quarterback” and that’s why he seems to be getting as much attention as he does.
If he was correctly referred to as a “special teamer” would he be any more famous than Darren Fells, a tight end who caught seven touchdowns last year — and an eighth in the playoffs? Six touchdowns on 19 catches? Mecole Hardman, Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, John Brown, and Jamison Crowder were among the players who caught six touchdowns last year and they were all more productive, and all younger with the exception of Brown, who is 30.
Should teams be “trying” to find the next “Taysom Hill” at all? Would you rather be trying to find the next Courtland Sutton (72 receptions, 1,112 yards, six touchdowns, 24 years old), even if he doesn’t carry the outside chance of throwing a 50-yard pass or toting the ball 25 times?
People may also bring up that Hill is a “distraction” on offense and that his presence alone opens things up considerably for Brees. That may also be true, but keep in mind that his 23% of snaps last season was less than backup center Will Clapp (three starts), backup QB Teddy Bridgewater (37% of snaps), and was almost half that of number three receiver Tre’Quan Smith (43%). Hill played in 26 more snaps (less than two snaps per game) than fullback Zach Line.
These days, it’s not as hard to find a receiver who could carry the ball as much as Hill does, which was only 27 times. Curtis Samuel, Robert Woods, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Deebo Samuel all had at least 14 carries last season. They’re all younger too. They’re mostly all more reliable as receivers.
And why aren’t we spending more time talking about J.D. McKissic?
McKissic is 5’10, 195 pounds, and he went undrafted in 2016. His first action came with the Seattle Seahawks in 2017 and he had 46 carries for 187 yards with 34 receptions for 266 yards. In 2019 with the Detroit Lions, McKissic had 38 carries for 205 yards and 34 receptions for 233 yards. He may fall more in line with a poor man’s Austin Ekeler than a poor man’s Taysom Hill, but maybe you’d rather go the Ekeler route because he was able to produce value for the LA Chargers play after play in 2019.
Hill’s status as a legend still falls into the “Sleepy Hollow” category more so than the Jim Brown one. That being said, people are still talking about Hill and “the next Hill” and few players in the draft were mentioned in this breath more than Lynn Bowden out of Kentucky, a third round pick of the Las Vegas Raiders.
In the following film study (that I only watched, not produced), Jackson Krueger mentions that he sees Bowden “as a quarterback” in the Taysom Hill mold rather than as someone who could replace Derek Carr. Whether I agree or disagree about the necessity to find a player who can play special teams while being targeted 1.5 times and carrying it 2 times per game, I respect the study done here on Bowden and it helps me better understand what the Raiders are getting.
Even if they’re not getting the thing that some think they’re getting which is maybe a thing that’s not that all big of a deal in getting unless Bowden proves to be the next evolutionary step over that player who they may or may not be getting. Got it?
Las Vegas drafted Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards and have mentioned that they view Bowden as a running back. For now. Ideas before any camps or practices have taken place are simply that: ideas. Once put into action, we’ve seen ideas fail over and over again. We’ve seen expectations shift drastically — positively and negatively — after only one offseason with a rookie. Not even a season, an offseason. Three years from now, Bowden could be a running back, a receiver, a quarterback, a wildcat, a special teamer, or a free agent. Or something else.
He’s versatile. Hill is versatile. But “versatile” is nothing more than a term. It doesn’t carry value on its own. What things he does most well is what he’ll end up being and that can only come to light during the games.
And as we’ve seen with some players, expectations can be lifted even when things don’t happen in games.
(too long; didn’t get across the message clear enough: I like Taysom Hill, he’s a player that any team could probably fit onto the roster, but as of now he’s not proven to be more than a special teamer who is good for one or two offensive plays per game. He’s unique but there are also unique punters. Because Hill’s “position” is considered rare, we don’t know what that value is and would Bowden as a “Hill” be worth a third round pick?)