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BRB GroupThink: Low Ceilings

On this week’s GroupThink, the masthead gathers around the fire and discusses Davis Mills’ ceiling.

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals
check out that arm angle
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We have now seen five Davis Mills starts and 22 quarters of Davis Mills football. Houston is 0-5 in his starts. He is 111 for 171 (64.9%), has thrown for 1,047 yards, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and has fumbled three times. He is only averaging 6.1 yards an attempt, and his average attempted target is only 7.5 yards down the field.

We talked about this a few weeks ago, but now that we’ve seen more from him, it’s time to dig it up. Who do you think is Mills’ ceiling? Do you think he’s a future NFL starting caliber quarterback?

This is the question I asked the masthead. These are their answers.

MATT WESTON:

This one is complicated. There just aren’t many NFL quarterbacks who have spotty accuracy, are limited athletically, fail to push the ball downfield, take terrible sacks, can’t control plays at the line of scrimmage, have only above average arm strength, and whose best skill is hanging in the pocket. They don’t exist. They get pushed out of the NFL quickly.

If Mills hangs around, he’s maybe a backup quarterback. If I’m going to be sweet and nice, his ceiling is rookie year Mac Jones. The Patriots have a spread quick pass offense for Jones where he can hit open pockets with a quick release and anticipation. Everything is set up for him. He doesn’t offer anything in the run game, but he moves around the pocket some. The deep throws are more guesses than actual completions. That’s Mills’ best case scenario.

KENNETH:

A couple of weeks ago, I compared Mills’ ceiling to Kirk Cousins. This remains true. Cousins does a lot with little arm strength and knows how to work the field. Right now, Mills is calling the plays as they come in. To begin climbing towards his ceiling, the Texans need to work on his ability to read the defense and avoid costly errors.

More importantly, my best NFL comparison to Davis Mills is Cody Kessler. Kessler was also drafted in the third round out of a PAC-12 school and landed with a spiraling franchise.

This is Bleacher Report’s 2016 draft profile of Cody Kessler:

POSITIVES

A 22-year-old from Bakersfield, California, Cody Kessler started three years at USC and threw for 10,339 yards.

Kessler isn’t a top-tier athlete, but he moves well within the pocket and can slide his feet to evade rushers.

An accurate quarterback in a pro-style offense, Kessler holds the Trojans record for career completion percentage (67.5) and has torched opponents on underneath routes. He’s a smart, conservative passer who never threw more than seven interceptions in a season.

Kessler’s toughness was put to the test behind a bad offensive line, but he never backed down. He’s poised in the pocket when pressure is in his face and shows touch and accuracy when forced to make hurried throws.”

Sound familiar? Mills is basically the offspring of Kessler.

Similarly, Kessler was thrown into the void his rookie year after the starting quarterback went down with an injury. In his case, Kessler had to go through two QBs; Robert Griffin iII and Josh McCown. Kessler ended the season going 0-8. That does not bode well for the next set of games Mills plans to start. Mills is well down that Kessler path and may not ever be able to get off.

BIGFATDRUNK:

In these five Davis Mills starts, the Texans have scored 37 offensive points, or 7.4 points per game, and they scored a TD in only two of the five games.

It’s not all Mills’ fault! While Tim Kelly has been a tremendous upgrade over Bill O’Brien as the offensive coordinator, the play calling is typically pretty terrible and conservative. The offense line cannot run block at all. I mean, it’s comically inept at run blocking.

Davis Mills, though, is still a backup quality QB. For me, he’s the next Brian Hoyer. Hoyer is 16 wins to 23 losses, 59.2 % completion, 7.0 yards an attempt, 52 touchdowns, and 35 interceptions. Mills’s route tree is limited, and he is oddly inaccurate in the short game. He doesn’t have a skill that jumps out, and he certainly doesn’t have the ability to make plays on his own. He’s a little slick, but he’s not slippery in the pocket.

He definitely does not hold a candle to the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and if he’s not elite, he’s a backup and needs to be replaced.

MATT ROBINSON:

BFD said it best. If Mills is not elite, he’s a backup, and backups need to be replaced. Throughout the year, I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the coin when it comes to Mills.

To a certain degree, they are all true. He *was* put in too soon, he *does* struggle with the blitz, he *doesn’t* have a run game to support him, and he clearly *has* struggled with accuracy when things went south.

All of that being said, if one were to look around the league, I’d argue you’d find many young quarterbacks facing similar woes. The difference is that you’ll see a lot of those guys making mistakes down field. Mills hasn’t really been given enough leash to warrant that critique. As Weston pointed out, we are several starts removed from the Thursday Night Football short turnaround call to action, yet we still see the same bubble wrap offense designed to limit mistakes.

The offense with Mills versus the game and some change we saw with TyGOD felt widely different. Pharaoh Brown went from being poised for a breakout year to a blocking afterthought. Nico Collins, while promising, has not been given a chance to do his best Simi Fehoko impression on the boundary (a type of throw Mills loves to lob up). It’s very clear this coaching staff has reservations on what Mills can truly unlock for this offense. Could he improve? Absolutely, and he already has an incremental amount. What he’s shown so far is not far off from the Kessler/Keenum/Hoyers of the world.

L4BLITZER:

In evaluating Mills, you do have to take into account the team around him. Spoiler alert: It ain’t great. Mills has no run game whatsoever to rely on, and the offensive line is somewhere between ineffective and suck. Throw in a defense that is only slightly better than last year, and by that we mean they can get a few turnovers, and Mills is playing with the NFL equivalent of Texas Hold’em 2-7 off-set hold cards.

That being said, Mills is not showing the ability to be anything more than a serviceable backup on a non-McEasterby led team. The play calling is not helping, but I don’t think Kelly has faith that he can open up the offense with Mills as the starter. Mills is playing tough teams, especially on the road, but to only score eight points in the last three road games, when two of those points came via a safety, a QB does not escape blame.

Mills is a third round pick, and for every Joe Montana, you have tons of other guys who amount to nothing. Mills is not giving off those Montana vibes. Perhaps if he was in a better situation, it would be different. However, he is in a position where he has to carry the burden of the offense, and that is not a role he can handle, now or in the future.

MIKE BULLOCK:

This is a hard one. Mills’ footwork is still terrible, he has a lot of rookie-itis, and makes some really boneheaded mistakes.

But is it his fault or the environment? Someone was mentioning Peyton Manning’s rookie year the other day and I’d have to say if Manning was drafted by Houston this season, his career would look far different than it actually did. Pep Hamilton seems overrated as a QB guru, David Culley is the next former Houston Texans head coach in waiting, and Tim Kelly’s offense seems like a Lamborghini stuck in a rusted out Nissan Sentra body. The list goes on.

Everyone knows all the quarterback cliches:

—A quarterback’s best friend is a solid running game.

—Establish a young quarterback’s confidence with short, high percentage passes.

Yada yada yada...

Davis Mills has no run game to speak of, his offensive line is what we’ve come to expect from the post-Kubiak Texans (read: a wet paper bag) and he neither has the time nor the opportunity to make a lot of “high percentage” passes. Mills is far more Tom Savage than Deshaun Watson, so he’s not going to put a team on his back and will it to win. The guy needs help. Help he isn’t getting from anyone not named Brandin Cooks.

If Mills was drafted by a team with a solid offensive coaching staff in place, a great veteran quarterback to learn behind for a year or two, and an offense that moved the ball and scored touchdowns, I’d say Mills’ potential would certainly produce a quality NFL starter. But he was drafted by the McEasterby Texans. If they don’t trade him to a team like I just described, soon, his fate is sealed.