New Orleans Saints QB battle continues between Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston


NEW ORLEANS — As the Saints’ traveling party deplaned for the first preseason game in Baltimore 10 days ago, coach Sean Payton boarded Bus 1 and took his customary seat in the first row, next to the boarding stairs, the seat next to him, as always, unoccupied. Twenty, 25 Saints people got on after him, all walking past the empty two seats across the aisle from Payton. The door closed. The seats across the aisle, empty.

Payton took out his smart phone and took a photo of the empty seats. He texted the photo to the person who’d been sitting in those seats on every Saints road trip since 2006, the year they both arrived in Louisiana.

He wrote this message to Drew Brees, under the photo: “Every once in a while, I miss you.”

A few days later, before the Saints practiced in the Superdome on Friday night, Payton reflected on the body part that’s been missing this summer. “Every road trip I’ve been on since 2006, it’s been me and Drew, only me and Drew, in those seats,” he said. “On the trip to Baltimore, no one sat there on the way from the hotel to the airport, or on the way from the hotel to the game the next day, or on the way from the game back to the airport after the game. I’m all alone. Remember the movie ‘Papillon?’ I felt like the leper in the penal colony in Papillon.”

Jerry Glanville once famously said in an NFL Films piece, “You know what NFL stands for? Not For Long.” Brees, of course, defied that, lasting 15 seasons in New Orleans and registering 151 wins. His relationship with Payton was symphonic. I sat in on a 2018 Saints play-calling meeting the Saturday night before a game, and Brees went up and down the playsheet and ID’d 46 plays he hoped would be called the next day. I asked Payton how many of those he’d dial up. “Every one, I hope,” Payton said. “What he wants to run, I want to call.”

Payton is energized, truly, by the duel between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to replace Brees. He likes the life-goes-on part of this camp. He’s smitten with Winston’s arm, knowing how motivated he is to make the most of his second chance in the NFC South. Payton is a true believer, maybe one of the few, in the ability of Hill to be a playoff quarterback, especially after seeing him win three of four starts in relief of Brees last year.

“But there are times, maybe not every day, when I’ll think about Drew. How can you not?” Payton said. “The decision does weigh on me.”

There is, though, no time for gauzy sentimentality for the Saints this year. They’ve got Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay, totally reloaded to try to repeat, in their division, and Payton has to make one of the biggest decisions of his coaching career this week. Who wins the job as heir to Brees—Winston, the classic pocket quarterback trying to overcome his turnover bug; or Hill, the spritely unicorn of a passer/football-weapon? Monday is a huge night for The Decision.

Rarely do games in August mean a damn thing in the grand scheme of the balance of power in the NFL. But when the Saints host Jacksonville today (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) in the Superdome, Winston will have a chance to make his closing argument to win the job. After Hill got the start in Baltimore last week, Winston gets this one. Payton told me he hopes to name his starter before the final preseason game Saturday against Arizona, so Winston’s performance with the first team for multiple series will be the most important game he’s played since he lost his job in 2019 in Tampa Bay.

It’s dangerous to make any predictions now, because I believe (based on a 45-minute conversation with Payton on Friday) that a lot rides on the game today. I do think he has not decided anything with finality. But a strong game by Winston tonight would be influential. Picking Winston would crush Hill, who went 3-1 at QB with Brees hurt last year, and is sure he’s ready to be Brees’ heir. But it would allow Payton to retain Hill as his Swiss Army Knife weapon on offense and special teams. With the loss of trusted tight end Jared Cook in free agency and with wideout Michael Thomas out till October after ankle surgery, Hill—who had 108 snaps at tight end/wide receiver/slot last year—is the kind of weapon Payton would miss if he was the starting quarterback. Hill also has been a prime special-teams weapon, and that would go away if he started at quarterback.

It would be a cruel irony for Hill if he wasn’t named quarterback—and the reason was because Payton didn’t want to lose his snaps as a gadget/special-teams player.

Hill’s athleticism was on display Friday night in the team’s Superdome practice. It wasn’t a great night for him passing the ball, but he scored twice on bootlegs (called or coverage-forced) that showed off his 4.45 speed and great running instinct. Hill’s faster than Steve Young, and he’s built with a Tebow chest that makes him hard to bring down.

There’s also this: “We knew we could win at a high clip going 5-0 two years ago with Teddy Bridgewater,” defensive Cam Jordan said. “Then last year, Drew’s down again and we go 3-1 with Taysom. The change in the guard is shocking and hurts for sure, but at the same time, we know what we can do as a defense now. We know the identity of our team isn’t just Drew Orleans.”

I’m always hesitant to make anything much about one practice—that’s what I see in most camps. But in this one slice of Saints 2021 camp life, Winston was the more impressive thrower, for sure. When I talked to Payton pre-practice, one of the things he said was, “Where you really miss Drew is the two-minute [offense]. His command of the offense, his decision-making, his accuracy. Just so good.”

It’s like Winston heard Payton’s words in the last few minutes of practice in the cavernous empty ‘Dome. From about his own 20-yard line, Winston sent free-agent wideout Chris Hogan—one of Tom Brady’s former favorites—on a double-move up the left seam. Winston let it fly, maybe 50 yards in the air, and it nestled perfectly in the arms of Hogan, who had a step on the secondary. Touchdown.

Winston, of course, lost his Tampa gig because he turned the ball over more than any quarterback in football from 2015-19. He’s been better under Payton, but the bright lights haven’t been on him. Yet. Winston told me he thought his two training camps in New Orleans and time spent learning from Brees last year have given him a new perspective on the position. “One thing Drew blessed me with,” Winston said, “is that even though he didn’t have the [tools] last year that maybe he had early in his career, he was still one of the top quarterbacks in the league because he knew what he could do. For me, it’s been about believing that game plan to game plan, there’s different ways to beat a team. I had to learn there are 10 other guys out there counting on Jameis. He doesn’t need to be Superman.”

Of course Winston heard that from the coaches in Tampa too. He just couldn’t be disciplined enough to check it down and be content with being great in the short and intermediate field for the Bucs. He needs those traits if he wants to play for Payton. Tonight, we’ll see if Winston can put everything he’s learned, from Payton and Brees, into one very important outing.

Read more in this week’s Football Morning in America column.

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft CB Rankings: Devon Witherspoon highlights loaded draft class


The 2023 NFL Draft is growing nearer, with just weeks remaining until teams make selections that could alter the future of their franchise forever.

A solid secondary is crucial to any team’s defensive prowess, and for the teams looking to tighten up in coverage, this year’s draft is the one to do so.

The 2023 NFL Draft cornerback class is an incredibly deep one, but which corner will be first off the board? Chris Simms unveiled his 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback rankings this week on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast, posting Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon at the top of his list of corners in this year’s crop.

But trailing Witherspoon very closely are four other potential NFL superstars, with Simms ranking Michigan’s DJ Turner at No. 2, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez at No. 3, Maryland’s Deonte Banks at No. 4 and Georgia’s Kelee Ringo at No. 5.

The 2023 NFL Draft will begin on Thursday, April 27, and end on Saturday, April 29. The first round will take place on Thursday with rounds two and three airing on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday. Click here for Simms’ quarterback rankings,and here for his list of top wide receivers.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Simms’ Top Five CB prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Tier One

1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

2. DJ Turner, Michigan

3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

Tier Two

4. Deonte Banks, Maryland

Tier Three

5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

RELATED: 2023 NFL Draft order: Complete list of every pick from Round 1 through Round 7

Simms Breaks Down 2023 Draft CB Rankings

The following are highlights from Simms’ CB draft rankings. For Simms’ in-depth analysis, read below for a breakdown on each prospect and be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

No. 1: Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

What Simms said: “This guy is must-see TV. He’s up there with one of the most twitchy, sudden people I’ve ever seen in my life to the point where when he takes off, you’re like, ‘Wait, is that real? Did he really get to full speed in half a step?’ … Bump or off, both are phenomenol —  it’s rare to have that. He’s got very good play strength for a guy that’s 5’11” and a half at 181 lbs. He doesn’t know that, he thinks he’s 220 … It’s efficient and easy. He’s sudden and can see the ability to accelerate whether it’s downhill or sticking the foot in the ground and changing direction. As compared to my No. 2 and No. 3 guy, he might be a hair tighter in his hips, but his twitchiness and explosion and acceleration … you just start to go, ‘What does this guy not have, besides the fact that he’s not 6’2” or over 200 lbs.’ He’s phenomenol.”

No. 2: DJ Turner, Michigan

What Simms said: “To me, (DJ Turner is) the most technically sound corner in the draft. There’s nobody better at technique. Like Witherspoon, the ability to mirror receivers at the line of scrimmage, the quick feet, it’s phenomenol. His hips are better than Witherspoon … His ability to flip those hips, turn and break on the ball, it’s right up there. It’s actually more smooth hip-wise than it is for Devon Witherspoon … What more can you say about the guy? Start-stop ability, amazing. Make-up speed, amazing. Other than Witherspoon, I think he’s put in the second-most tough spots out of anybody I’ve watched in this. He plays man-to-man, in your face a ton against big-time receivers. He’s awesome defending double moves. He could be the best nickel or outside guy, and he’s also the fastest guy in the draft. He’s got it all.”

No. 3: Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

What Simms said: “There’s not much to pick apart here … He’s got a little more size and meat on his bones. The Tee Higgins of the world, the bigger receivers of the world, they’re gonna have a harder time pushing him around and doing that stuff. He’s got incredible ball skills … He looks prototype. He looks Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey-ish in his uniform …  He just wasn’t as edgy as the other guys … He’s gonna match up better with DeAndre Hopkins than the other two. But I don’t know if he’ll match up better with Jaylen Waddle or Ja’Marr Chase than the other two … But his technique is real. He’s a top-20 pick. You talk size, technique and straight speed, of course this guy is one of the top corners in the draft.” 

No. 4: Deonte Banks, Maryland

What Simms said: “He has more measurables like Gonzalez. 6 foot, 197 lbs., there’s a thickness to him and a power and strength element that certainly jumps out. Let alone, speed is Real Deal Holyfield … man-to-man, great legs, runs easy … He’s comfortable in his speed. He’s never panicked. He’s comfortable in going, ‘You have a step on me? That’s fine, I’m good,’ … But he’s also incredible, like Witherspoon and Turner, at getting on top of people when they try to run a go-route. No one can ever really get around him for the most part … He’s sticky as hell, he’s got very good feet, but he doesn’t know how to use his hands at all yet. So he’s not really that great at jamming people at the line of scrimmage, but he’s never not there … I thought his ability to play the ball and create PBUs in those 50/50 situations where the quarterback tries to throw the ball back shoulder and all that, he’s got a great feel and vision to be able to cover and see the throw at the same time that I was very impressed with.”

No. 5: Kelee Ringo, Georgia

What Simms said: “When you turn on the film, you go, ‘What? This guy’s a corner, he’s not a safety?’ Because he has a prototype safety vibe … Against the bigger, straight-liner guys, nobody’s gonna push this dude around. That’s certainly not going to be an issue, that along with the straight speed. Hey, the change of direction stuff is not beautiful. He’s a little heavy-footed because he’s a bigger guy … but it’s not bad … When he opens up, he can really go; obviously with a 4.36 second 40 time … He’s very smooth as far as an athlete overall.” 

For more preview content of the 2023 NFL Draft, stay tuned to Chris Simms UnbuttonedProFootballTalk and NBC Sports EDGE for all the latest updates, player analysis and mock drafts.

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings: The top QBs, WRs, RBs, and more ahead of draft weekend


The 2023 NFL Draft takes place on Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here for the full first-round draft order to find out when your team is picking.

Ahead of this year’s draft, Chris Simms has already started analyzing the top prospects by position on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast. So far, Simms has revealed his highly anticipated list of the top 5 quarterback prospects and wide receivers. See below to find out who made the top 5 names for each position and be sure to check back for updates!

Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL Draft as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings:

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings:

  1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
  2. Bryce Young, Alabama
  3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  4. Anthony Richardson, Florida
  5. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA and Will Levis, Kentucky

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings:

  1. Zay Flowers, Boston College
  2. Jaxon Smith-Njibga, Ohio State
  3. Quentin Jonston, TCU
  4. Michael Wilson, Stanford
  5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Chris Simms 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

  1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
  2. DJ Turner, Michigan
  3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
  4. Deonte Banks, Maryland
  5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

How can I watch the 2023 NFL Draft live?

ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network will air all seven rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.

What time does the NFL Draft start?

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will get underway on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds two and three will commence Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with Saturday’s final rounds at 12 p.m.

Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Season and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!