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Why Josh Hill is the Saints’ breakout player this season

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White sees a special connection between Drew Brees and the late-blooming tight end.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It would be fair to label Saints tight end Josh Hill somewhat of a late bloomer. After hauling in 14 catches in his second season, 2014, and 16 catches in 2015, it appeared that Hill was finally about to break out last season, his fourth year in the league.

Even though he was slowed by a high ankle sprain early on that left him without a catch in the first five games, Hill was still able to get to 15 catches over the course of the next eight games. He seemed to be well on his way to a career best in receptions as well as receiving yardage, even with the missed time, until he went down with a broken leg in Week 13 that ended his season for good.

Hill was able to show what he could do when he got more opportunities in the passing game.

He isn't especially quick or fast, but Hill has a real knack for getting open. Even better, he also has some really good hands and adjusts well to balls that are off-target. I saw Hill jump up and catch a pass over a defensive back, reach back and snag a pass that was thrown behind him over another defensive back and get down on the ground a couple times to scoop low balls up before they hit the turf.

He's the real deal, now.

Another thing in his favor is that several of Hill's catches from last season were on scramble plays when Brees had to move around to either get away from the pass rush or just to buy more time to throw. Brees has now seen Hill sell out to make catches in those situations when he was just looking for someone to dump the ball off too, so I would assume Brees has a lot more confidence in him now. And when Brees has confidence in you, you see the ball coming your way a lot.

Of course the Saints still have Coby Fleener who will be in his second year with the team, and I'd expect Fleener to get the majority of targets at the position. But I can still certainly see Hill easily surpassing his career best for catches (16) and receiving yardage (176), while potentially exceeding his high water mark of five touchdowns as well.

As long as he stays healthy.

He might not make the Pro Bowl, but I do think Josh Hill will take a big leap forward in his production. That is why I chose him to be the Saints' breakout player of 2017.