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BRB GroupThink: Davis Mills, to 2022 and Beyond

The masthead gathers around the fire and ponders Davis Mills’ future on this week’s GroupThink.

Los Angeles Chargers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Davis Mills was unplayable, and the Houston Texans were unwatchable, when Davis Mills came in for Tyrod Taylor. Six starts, six losses, with only one loss less than two scores. Houston ran a Fisher Price offense with Mills. Run heavy, limited route combinations, and the Texans failed on all fronts. Since taking over in the second half against Indianapolis, Mills played a good half against Seattle, a fine game against Jacksonville, and a great game against Los Angeles. The Texans need hope in a hopeless season. Mills has provided exactly that.

Do you think Mills should be the Texans starting quarterback in 2022? This was the question I asked the masthead. These are their responses:

MATT WESTON:

Mills has done what young players typically do, they get better. Every part of his game is better then when he first took the field. Reading the defense presnap, accuracy, arm strength, ball placement, footwork, and downfield accuracy. He’s an entirely different player than he was against Arizona, Los Angeles, Buffalo, etc.

The Texans have played better complimentary football. The run game wasn’t good against Jacksonville, averaging 2.9 yards a carry, but they pushed the ball past the line of scrimmage. Consistently they were able to get two to three yards, creating shorter and easier third down conversions, against a Jaguars team that still can’t pass man coverage rubs, and actually mashed the Chargers on the interior. Mills was able to be a complimentary passer. Throwing off the run, quick passing early in the downs, and taking advantage of shorter third downs.

This isn’t meant to poop on Mills. It highlights the problems with the Texans entering this season. Their offensive line planning was stupid, their running back room ridiculous, and their scheme absurd. They wanted to run the football without building a team who can actually do it. This failed Mills and put him in a terrible place to start the season.

I still can’t get the first six and a half games out of my head entirely. I can still see the silly sacks, the same route combinations, the dreadful mistakes, the fluttering passes, the complete and total offensive failure. I don’t own a Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind helmet, but if I did, I would scramble out all that poor and maybe meaningless film.

I don’t think Houston can sit on the quarterback position next year, and merely pair Mills with Ryan Finley or a quarterback of that caliber. They’ll still need to add talent and competition. If you don’t have a quarterback you still have to flip stones until you find one. Drafting one of the rookies at the end of the first or second round makes sense, or signing a younger quarterback who is back on the market that won’t take a significant salary: Jamies Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, and Marcus Mariota all come to mind. They also can’t rule out snagging a quarterback when they trade Deshaun Watson as well.

Mills has turned his season and career around the last two and a half games. It’s a small sample, but it maybe a glimmer into a better future. The Texans should test it out and see what’s there with a caveat—find a quarterback to compete with him. He’s been good, but not good enough to have the spot locked down entering 2022.

RIVERS MCCOWN:

If it were purely up to me I’d say I haven’t seen enough upside to stop me from drafting another quarterback and having them battle it out in camp. But I am resigned to the fact that the Texans don’t feel the same way and you have to at least be encouraged about the Los Angeles Chargers game and the possibility of new offensive coaching elevating him more. I just come from the school that unless you’re positive you have a franchise guy you keep firing.

L4BLITZER:

Mills, his play has improved a great deal from earlier in the season. Is he perfect? Nope. Is he a potential future Pro-Bowl quarterback? Not likely. Yet, what he has done is shown that for the upcoming 2022 Draft, the Texans do not need to reach and/or sell out draft capital just to draft a quarterback prospect. Given that this squad still has so many roster and talent holes, the team can and should stick to BPA as much as possible. defensive end, offensive tackle, cornerback, runningback, offensive guard, etc…this upcoming draft is not especially strong in quarterback prospects. Other areas are stronger and the team would be well advised to not overvalue a quaterback.

That being said, if a quarterback prospect is within reasonable draft range (i.e. the team does not make a deal ala Trubisky or Watson) then the team can and should make that pick. This team will likely still be a couple of seasons away from playoff contention, thus the emphasis needs to be on acquiring as much affordable talent/potential as possible. With all the dead cap space for 2022, the draft will likely be the primary source for talent upgrades.

Mills may not be the next Joe Montana or Russell Wilson, showing that quality quarterbacks can emerge from the third round. Yet, I think his recent play has earned him a legitimate chance to open the 2022 season as the starter. If nothing else, he at least has shown that he can carve out a career in the NFL.

KENNETH L.:

I don’t have any statistical data behind this, but nothing seems worse to a quarterback’s psyche than drafting another quarterback. It shows distrust and makes the quarterback feel like a moveable piece rather than the franchise cornerstone. Whether Mills is or is not (I’m leaning towards not), you can’t immediately undermine him by bringing in another guy. Sure, I’m all here for competition and what not, but a quarterback drafted before the sixth round would be a mistake.

Obviously Deshaun Watson isn’t playing here again, so we can rule that out. And Tyrod Taylor most likely won’t return, and that be a mutual decision.

The Texans aren’t going to waste cap space on a big quarterback. I’d expect them to bring in a Ryan Fitzpatrick type. Or two. A guy who can step into the backup role or even starting role and teach the new guy a thing or two. I could see Andy Dalton, Teddy Bridgewater, or Mitchell Trubisky.

Mills has deserved the start to end the season. Until the next round of backups are established it’s a tad too early to tell. He has to continually earn it week in and week out. They just need to set him up for success until someone superior can take over.

MIKE BULLOCK:

I’d say that’s a definite maybe.

Without knowing how much draft capital the Texans will have come April, it’s hard to say. There are no clear cut “the guy” quarterbacks in this draft, and the team has holes at literally every single position, except maybe kicker. If they move Deshaun Watson and pull in a bevy of picks, then yes, I’d seriously consider spending a pick on another quarterback.

However, since 2022 will still be rebuilding time, maybe bring in an older, starter-quality free agent quarterback who can push Mills, and someone Mills can learn from, then use the draft picks on BPA all day. This team needs help across both lines, the linebackers and defensive backs also. Not to mention there really is no clear cut running back one (or two for that matter).

Maybe even trade Watson in a package that gets a veteran quarterback. Last week’s rumors of a trade with the Cleveland Browns that would bring Baker Mayfield to Houston were intriguing, even if they were probably pure fiction.

Sure they need to lock down the most important position on the field, but I might wait until the team around that person is better or risk another David Carr situation. Mills seems to be growing in a toxic environment. So, let him keep growing while Caserio gives him all the things a young quarterback needs, like a solid o-line, quality run game and a defense that ensures he isn’t playing from behind all day, every day. We just had a brief glimpse of what that might look like and Mills grabbed that brass ring.

If this team was just a field general away from a championship, then go all in on one. But, they aren’t even one player away from playoff contention - so why waste yet another first round quarterback’s prime like they did with Watson?

MATT ROBINSON:

I don’t think what has been shown is warranting him coming in unchallenged in camp next year. That being said I have been pleasantly surprised Mills seems closer to his ceiling than to his unplayable floor he showed at the beginning of the year. While I’m glad he’s been able to escape the bubble wrap offense and push the ball downfield I still see limits in his overall game and too much needs to go right for him to be successful. There is a legitimate discussion to be had on whether he is better than the draft eligible passers coming out this year and he for sure has proven better than the likes of a Ryan Finley or new tight end sensation Jeff Driskel, which is a better spot to be in for sure, though ideally not where we want to be in the post Watson era.

The writing on the wall from team narratives is that they are not impressed with the quarterbacks in the draft and will probably be looking to bolster a thin defensive unit lacking true stars. During the 2023 season though…if a Kyler Murray-esque lightning rod of a dynamic prospect is available I have no issue treating Mills like a Josh Rosen and hitting the upgrade button. This franchise has learned its lesson from Matt Schaub, B+ starters in the right offensive scheme can take you a long ways, but they need a lot to break right in order to take you all of the way.