The 2017 Green Bay Packers had begun trimming their roster to 53 players and Max McCaffrey didn’t make the cut, so he started exchanging goodbyes.
The wide receiver was in good spirits, though, after signing to the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad. As he continued to finish up his business in the locker room, one more person walked in. And McCaffrey had to thank him, because without this rookie quarterback, McCaffrey himself might not have found a landing spot.
“We start talking like, ‘Taysom, it’s been awesome, man. I’m heading out to New Orleans,’” McCaffrey said. “He’s like, ‘Oh wait. Me too.’”
McCaffrey and Taysom Hill hopped on the same flight to New Orleans, “which was hilarious,” McCaffrey says. “Just being in that locker room, we’re training all preseason, and both of us are thinking we’re off to some other place.”
McCaffrey ultimately ended up somewhere else, signing with Jacksonville a week later, but he’ll forever cherish the time he spent as Hill’s teammate, not only because Hill helped get McCaffrey’s career up and going, but because McCaffrey saw Hill’s potential early.
“I knew he was going to be something special from the moment he stepped on the field,” McCaffrey said.
Four of Hill’s five years at BYU culminated with season-ending injuries.
That included his fifth year, when he hyper-extended his elbow in a rivalry game against Utah State.
At least the New Orleans Saints didn’t have to wait as long as usual to get the bad taste out of their mouths.
Because of that, BYU coach Kalani Sitake figured Hill wasn’t going to get drafted, but he also knew Hill was going to test well at BYU’s pro day.
“He raised some eyebrows when that happened,” Sitake said.
Hill clocked in at 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash and recorded a 38.5-inch vertical jump. Both would have topped the charts at the NFL scouting combine for quarterbacks, had Hill been invited. He didn’t get drafted, but signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent.
“I just knew that once a team took him, he was going to impress them,” Sitake said. “He was going to do well. The more eyes were on him, I knew it wasn’t going to be a matter of whether he made it, it’s going to be a matter of who is going to coach him and how they’re going to use him.”
Then-Packers linebacker Jordy Tripp doesn’t remember the particulars of the first time he noticed Hill, just the reaction to seeing a player like that in a No. 8 uniform jersey.
“I was just like, ‘Who is this dude?’” Tripp said. “He’s not really a conventional build for a quarterback. He’s bigger, stronger, and he looks like a hybrid defensive player, running back, quarterback mix.”
McCaffrey’s first memory of Hill from that training camp wasn’t from something on the field. It was from rookie hazing.
“Nothing bad,” McCaffrey said with a laugh.
The New Orleans Saints made a host of roster moves on Saturday, the team announced.
Typical rookies are anywhere from 21 to 23, but not Hill. Because Hill took a two-year church mission after high school and then spent five years playing college football, Hill turned 27 during his rookie training camp.
“It’s comical, him being older than half the guys on the team and he’s going through the same rookie process that every rookie’s gone through,” McCaffrey said. “I don’t remember the exact things, but I just remember him having that humbleness about him and we’re laughing. ‘Dude, you’re two years older than me. I’m a second-year player and half the guys here are younger than you.’”
A few weeks into camp, Green Bay headed to Washington for its second game of the preseason. Hill made a few plays the week before against the Philadelphia Eagles, but that first outing was nothing like his second.
Hill was the fourth Packers quarterback that night. When he stepped foot onto the grass at FedEx Field, Washington’s commentators continued their conversation about Washington’s front office staff through the first play — where Hill faked the handoff, rolled to his right and added a few pump fakes before running it himself for a gain of 6.
That first drive ultimately went nowhere, but as rain began to fall for drive No. 2, Hill and Co. strung some plays together.
Hill fired a bullet to one of his receivers on a crossing route for 17 yards. Two plays later on fourth-and-1, Hill took the snap under center and faked the handoff, rolling out of the pocket to keep it himself. Hill, with room to run, converted for the first down and then some, celebrating the play with an emphatic first-down motion.
Two snaps later: The play that sticks with everyone from that 2017 Green Bay training camp.
Hill took the snap out of the shotgun formation, made at least one read as the pocket collapsed around him. Hill leaked out through the A gap and broke one tackle 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He then avoided another defender a yard later, tucked the ball in and darted down the field.
At the 13-yard line, Hill juked a third defender, cut sharply to his left to beat a defensive back to the edge and stiff-armed his way into the end zone to score a go-ahead touchdown.
“I was like, ‘Whoa. Holy smokes, this kid is good.’ You don’t expect that from a quarterback unless it’s like Lamar Jackson or something,” Tripp said. “The kid just took off. It was one of those things that’s an eye-catcher, something you rewind on tape a few times.
“That’s a memory I’ll have forever. I know people are like, ‘Oh, it’s just the preseason. Whatever.’ But it felt special.”
Tripp said he began watching more of Hill’s reps because of that rushing score alone. And as time wore on, Tripp’s impression of Hill began to solidify.
“He kept making freakishly athletic plays in terms of speed, like that play,” Tripp said. “Like, this kid’s a little bit different. He’s not just somebody who came in to be on the practice squad or somebody who came in for a tryout that’s just there for camp.”
It wasn’t like Green Bay needed a starting quarterback when they already had future a Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers. But a backup? Behind Brett Hundley, the No. 3 spot was open competition.
By the end of the preseason, Hill compiled an impressive stat line over three games, completing 14 of 20 passes for 149 yards, throwing two touchdowns and rushing for 71 yards on 10 carries with that one rushing score.
“As time wore on, he and I were both told and we were pretty much expected to make the team,” Tripp said. “We both ended up getting released. And I went to Atlanta and he went to New Orleans.”
New Orleans wasn’t even looking at Hill. The Saints wanted McCaffrey, a player they’d worked out previously.
As head coach Sean Payton and offensive assistant Joe Brady watched the receiver’s cut ups, Payton’s eyes kept drifting to the quarterback throwing all those passes to McCaffrey.
After they’d watched enough film on McCaffrey, the Saints ended up making a cut up of Hill’s plays, too.
“The credit goes to Sean,” offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said. “He’s watching the film and noticed this player where things just kept happening that stood out.”
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McCaffrey said the catalyst for Payton pulling the trigger on signing Hill was that drive in the Washington game — “he said that’s what stood out to him,” McCaffrey said.
But Payton saw something the staffers in Green Bay didn’t tap into — Hill’s versatility. When Hill was healthy in college, he lined up all over the field, getting reps at quarterback, punter and on various special teams units.
In his rookie season, Hill remained on the Saints’ practice squad until Dec. 3 when he was called up to the active roster ahead of New Orleans’ Week 13 game against the Carolina Panthers.
Instead of getting in on offense, Hill trotted out onto the field for 12 special teams plays, roughly 41% of the Saints snaps for those units.
McCaffrey knew his former teammate had been called up, so he made a point to watch that game — especially because his brother, Christian, was playing in that contest, too.
“I was all excited. I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna Taysom, we’re gonna watch him get in,’” McCaffrey said. “Then I see him running down on kickoff and I’m like, ‘What the heck?’ In Green Bay he was just your standard quarterback.”
And the week after that, the Saints faced the Falcons — where Tripp was game-planning to face his former Packers teammate.
As Tripp sees Hill on kickoff, a thought pops into his head: “Man, how does a kid like this get cut?”
Three years later, Hill continues to blaze a path.
The only mold he fits into is his own, working at quarterback, running back, fullback, tight end, personal protector, gunner and holder. He’s on kickoff/punt coverage and returns and he’s on the field goal block unit, too.
“A true Renaissance man of the game,” McCaffrey said. “He can do anything you ask him to do, and that’s what makes him special. Honestly, he’s one of the most athletic guys in the league.”
The one thing he hasn’t done — aside from playing defense — is be the starting quarterback.
Hill, at 30, believes he can do it. And his former teammates do too.
“He is very capable of — I think — you gotta prove it, but starting at quarterback in the NFL, eventually,” Tripp said.
McCaffrey added: “He’s got a cannon. He’s a bigger body who can go break tackles. What he’s been able to accomplish in his NFL career up to this point, I know he’s got a lot more football to go.”
He won’t get that start this weekend, but Sunday marks another milestone for New Orleans’ Swiss army knife. It’s the first time he gets to play against the NFL team that released him three years ago.
The 2020 Packers are quite different than the 2017 Packers, considering there’s been ample turnover on both the coaching staff and the roster itself.
But still, Hill finds himself looking back at how far he’s come — especially this week when his journey comes full circle.
“The reality is, Green Bay created an opportunity for me to be seen,” Hill said. “I’ll forever be grateful to the Packers and their organization. They certainly have a soft spot in my heart as well because of the opportunity they created for me.”
Derland Moore, a legendary New Orleans Saints defensive tackle who played 13 seasons in the Crescent City, has died, the team announced Friday.