By now everybody knows about the New Orleans Saints’ do-it-all player, Taysom Hill. He has taken snaps everywhere from special teams to tight end and quarterback. This wrinkle in the Saints’ offense installed by head coach Sean Payton has proven to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses as they have to pay extra attention to where Hill lines up to prevent him from impacting the play. Hill is an effective decoy because his athleticism always keeps the defense both alert and honest, opening things up for Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas.
What has made Hill so successful is his ability and willingness to do anything asked of him, whether that’s throwing the ball when filling in at quarterback or being the lead blocker for the running back. Hill should also credit most of his success to his coach, an offensive mastermind who effectively created a new position that allows Hill to shine. Payton used Hill’s athleticism to impact the offense and special teams instead of trying to confine him to one role and have him hyper-focus on a particular skill set.
Nowadays, it seems like every team is looking to find their own Hill-type player to exploit defensive mismatches and open up their playbooks. This new trend is all the rage, but what if I told you the Minnesota Vikings had a player with almost the same skillset as Hill who, in retrospect, they completely underutilized?
Vikings fans will surely remember Joe Webb. The sixth-round pick out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham provided one of the few bright spots in the 2010 season. In his first start, Webb led the 14-point underdog Vikings to a win against the playoff-bound Philadelphia Eagles on a cold Tuesday night.
Although Webb put up rather underwhelming passing numbers at UAB, you can see why the Vikings took a late-round flyer on him, given that he rushed for 1,000 yards twice and had a crazy athletic profile that included a 42.5″ vertical and a 4.43 40-yard-dash time.
Webb was initially selected as a quarterback/wide receiver hybrid prospect, but former Vikings head coach Brad Childress defined Webb’s role as a quarterback early on. He returned one kick during his rookie season, but an injury to Brett Favre saw him take over the reins at starting quarterback for the last three games of the season on the way to a disappointing 6-10 finish.
Childress was fired during the disastrous season, but Webb’s role saw little change under new head coach and former defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer. Webb only saw the field when he was replacing Christian Ponder in 2011 and 2012.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the Vikings finally decided to capitalize on Webb’s athleticism by moving him to a different position. “(Webb) is such a talented athlete that we want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing by him and our team as well,” Frazier said at the time. So Webb was moved to wide receiver for the season, but it felt like this role was still too rigid and didn’t cater to Webb’s athleticism. Instead, it forced him to learn a new position while he was already three years into his NFL career.
The comparison to Hill might seem a bit far-fetched to some of the people who never saw Webb play, but he could have potentially even surpassed what Hill has achieved given his superior athletic profile. At 6’4″ and 231 lbs., Webb stands two inches taller than Hill and roughly 10 lbs. heavier. Webb also keeps pace with Hill in the speed category; his time of 4.43 is just a hair ahead of Hill’s at 4.44. Webb also offered a vertical jump 4.5” higher than Hill’s and a long jump that is 1’ 3” inches longer.
With his increased athleticism and the power element that he could add, Joe Webb could have been the original Taysom Hill if the Vikings had gone outside the mold in crafting his role in the offense.
While it would have been interesting to see the Vikings be at the forefront of this type of offensive innovation, I doubt it would have helped turn them into a winner. The Vikings were awful from 2010 to 2013, only making one playoff appearance in which the Green Bay Packers swiftly eliminated them.
It would have taken some pressure off of Ponder. But Webb’s ability to play this type of position would feel more like a luxury for an offense that lived and died by how well Adrian Peterson could run the ball on any given Sunday.