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The Film Room: Davis Mills

Is Davis Mills one of the same or something special?

Oregon State v Stanford Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Since Bob McNair immaculately conceived the Houston Texans, third round quarterbacks have flailed in the NFL. Only two quarterbacks have turned into consistent year to year starters. The MVP caliber Super Bowl winning Russell Wilson, who slid in the draft because of his size, and the second greatest quarterback in Texans history, Matt Schaub, who the Texans traded for after David Carr couldn’t muster success even in a Gary Kubiak offense. The rest are blips. Nick Foles won a Luciferian Super Bowl once. Jacoby Brissett was a wine glass swirling with farts collectively sniffed by the entire Indianapolis Colts fanbase. Mike Glennon ran with a potential starting quarterback narrative for a brief bit. Ryan Mallett THROW HARD.

Most would kill to be Glennon. Backup quarterback is the median ceiling for these selections. Most third round quarterbacks toil away as backups and drown whenever they accidentally find the field, if they ever even do. There are more Brodie Coyles than Colt McCoys. Here’s the full list of third round quarterback selections sorted by Approximate Value.

Averages only provide a general outlook. Statistics murder the individual. It excludes the rare cases. Davis Mills is the only Davis Mills out there. Just because he was selected in the third round doesn’t mean he will have a career similar to Trent Edwards. Mills is an entirely separate collection of cells. For a starving fanbase, one that has been fed stones over the last calendar year, any morsel of potential, or success, is a slice of bread needed.

This throw signals the uniqueness of the individual. Mills was worth a third round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft for this throw alone.

It’s third and eight. Stanford is in the redzone in a 2x1 formation running isolation routes: a slant and go, a deep post, and a drag from the weakside. Notre Dame plays cover zero with a linebacker acting as the rat and blitzes seven. The defensive tackle breaks free by jousting high hand placement. With a defender in his face, cudgeling his brains, Mills is an iron man in the pocket with a high arm slot to put it over the charging rhinoceros. The ball lands on the trailing cornerback’s outside shoulder. This is as good as life can be.

There are other wowza throws made by Mills. This isn’t the only one. Against Cal, Mills made a similar throw. Cal is playing cover four with a four man rush. The defense is able to get interior pressure again, and again, Mills stands strong in the pocket, climbs it, and delivers a pirouetting throw over the trailing cornerback who fails to stay above the vertical.

In general, Mills has great touch on sideline throws. As long as the throw is high and lofty, he can wag it above defenders, especially when there is a size advantage.

And there’s this one. This is as NFL as it gets. The right tackle gets beat by an inside move. Mills, again, isn’t phased by the rush, is anchored in the pocket, and shoots one to his receiver’s outside shoulder from the opposite hash. He’s great at keeping his eyes downfield in spite of pressure. NO FEAR. It’s Sunday afternoon.

An offense isn’t built around the incredible though. There needs to be consistent sources of offensive production. Mills provides this by throwing in rhythm, especially off play action passes.

Mills’s game is littered with throws like this. Out of the shotgun, in a split back set, Mills fakes the hand off, loads off a three step drop and hits the easy post.

Out of a single backfield formation, Mills fakes the hand off, and hits the slant against cover three.

Aside from the outlandish and the incredulous, Mills is at his best off play action, sitting and throwing in rhythm. This time against cover three, he waits for the cornerback to open his hips to run the vertical, before throwing the curl.

No one knows exactly how the 2021 Houston Texans are going to look—a team whose preseason will be more exciting than their regular season. Offensively, after the Marcus Cannon trade, the interior offensive line competition they’ve created, and the trio of running backs they have, all signs point to Houston being built around a power run game. If Tyrod Taylor wins the job, Houston can run a crappy version of Baltimore’s gap-read offense, despite the fact that Taylor hasn’t been a great runner in four years. If Mills gets to make a couple of starts, Houston can run their power run offense, and throw play action off of it. He already has the foundation to do it.

He sees the game well before and after the snap, and processes through his reads well. Before the snap, Stanford has a 3x1 formation, ensuring man coverage on the backside. He holds the safety with his eyes, giving his receiver a pure one v. one opportunity. The ball is up and over the shorter cornerback.

Sometimes the brain doesn’t match the body. Stanford has the perfect playcall for the coverage. Against a 3-4 defense, with one single high safety, Cal is running a palms coverage. The cornerback sits on the flat, the single high safety covers to play the vertical. A swift pump fake vacates the center of the field. This leaves the slot receiver one v. one up the seam against an ill-numbered linebacker. Mills makes the read, creates the throw, but puts the ball too high over his receiver’s inside hand.

Mills has strange accuracy. He had the bare minimum for the college game. Yet, there was a lot left desired. He’s left plenty of throws on the table, the spot on the ball wasn’t good enough for his receiver to make catches in stride, and the consistency wasn’t there. His footwork needs to improve in the pocket as he progresses through his reads. His brain works faster than his body, and often his body is misaligned when he attempts throws later in his progression. Overall, this part of his game was average, and typically, accuracy isn’t something that improves dramatically over the course of a player’s career.

His arm faces the same frustrations. The ball gets there. It isn’t anything special. He throws well with touch down the sideline, but you won’t see him put it through tight windows, whiz passes off the earhole, or unleash pinpoint lasers downfield. He has enough arm, but again, it isn’t miraculous by any means.

There are still plenty of problems here, reasons why Mills, despite his former pedigree, ended up being a third round pick.

As mentioned before, he doesn’t make the automatic automatic. Throughout his college career Mills didn’t turn wide open throws into the big gains necessary to win football games. Sometimes a miss defines the outcome of a game. Easy ones like this can’t be missed.

It’s cover one man. The outside wide receiver beats the press coverage with a swipe. Mills doesn’t throw his usual touch pass. There’s more mayonnaise on this one. It sails past him.

This is a touchdown his brain left on the table. He correctly checked the short middle. Despite the safety climbing down in the box, leaving the center of the field empty, and with the slot receiver beating the cornerback off the line, Mills still tries to hit the sideline vertical he’s more comfortable with.

Stanford is in a three tight end set on first and ten. The wide off line tight end sneaks around the inline tight end and up the field. He’s wide open running an out route off play action. Mills pushes it past his fingers.

In a 1x2 formation, the safety is shaded toward the stack. He has a one v. one chance to the backside. His receiver beats the press, but the ball is too far toward the hash to complete the throw.

These are lost points that came back to hurt Stanford. In the NFL, when the margins are even slimmer, and collections of plays are run throughout a game to create a single shot at a big play, they especially can’t be missed. Both his brain and accuracy hurt him on these throws, even with tight mechanics. These misses can rarely happen, and can’t occur as often as they do.

In the pocket he tries to be creative, but usually it ends in bad results. He isn’t the type of athlete who can turn nothingness into something. He’s better off winning from the pocket instead of escaping it to create. Some people are better off consuming than creating. Mills is this.

There are the rare occasions where he hits, but again, these are rare, and NFL players aren’t going to miss these detonations.

His attempts at creating usually ends in disaster. It’s a performance art piece where the artist is arrested for public indecency. Usually, originality becomes disgusting.

Although he climbs the pocket well, and is strong against pressure, he’s drunk in traffic. Too often, he takes incorrect paths in the pocket, and walks his way into sacks. There’s a lot of Zach Mettenberger in him, and no, that isn’t a good thing.

Pass protection is overrated. The great quarterbacks can make up for it with their mind, body, and arm. Mills is the type of quarterback who requires it. He requires the tackle group the Texans have, and will need for the interior to finally figure itself out for him to play at the professional level.

Mills also has problems with interceptions as the game goes on. When it’s close, and later in the game, when he tries to fabricate, mistakes are usually made. He’ll lock onto one receiver and deliver interceptions. He’ll try to out wily the safety and end up losing.

It’s cover one. Mills loves to throw to the slot, and from the hashmarks out. The slot receiver is covered against a cornerback in off man coverage, but with outside leverage. Before the snap, this should be a no go. His eyes never leave this route, and with the pass rush enclosing in on him, he attempts a dumpy and wobbly throw that gets cleaned up.

Cal is playing cover seven against a 1x2 set. The boundary corner has a cut call, and the safety is late rolling back to the deep middle instead of helping on the first receiver. This leaves the field side in an individual coverage situation. The safety is in conflict. He’s supposed to play the first skinny post, but is stuck meandering to the second post the misaligned safety is rolling back to. Mills tries to camouflage his throw. He checks the second deep post, the throw he should make, before failing to put it over the safety. The ball is empty. Mills doesn’t have the arm to beat the safety to the spot from 47 yards out.

He has problems with the deep middle safety in general. Downfield passes are hazy and all about touch. This turns the deep game into scampering pop flies. On this interception, Mills tries to hit the double move. He doesn’t push it up the sideline away from the safety. The ball hangs to the center of the field, which allows the safety to come into the picture.

There’s a lot of work needed to throw the deep ball away from the sideline. Young quarterbacks usually need time to develop the deep ball at the professional level. It’s typically the last thing that comes together for a franchise quarterback. The problem for Mills though, is he doesn’t have the arm strength, or the athleticism, to project this into being an eventual skill. He’ll leave passes hanging. He’ll miss open throws. This isn’t something that should change.

On the surface, Mills has the potential to be a special individual. He’s the former number one high school recruit, his college career was derailed by a knee injury and a terribly run collegiate conference, and during his career, he’s made enough special throws, and shown enough tangible skills that separates him from the rest. But as we’ve just seen, there are numerous issues that bog down his game.

By selecting Mills in the third round, instead of grabbing a more of a sure starter at another position of need for a roster whose talent level is despairing, the Texans are betting on their scouting acumen. They saw something other teams don’t see. They have the coaching staff who can smooth out the errors and maximize the existing talent. They’re the esoteric and arcane ones who understand the long forgotten secrets. Or, it doesn’t work and they just take a quarterback in the first round next year instead.

My expectation is the latter. Mills isn’t a special individual. He’s a higher upside backup quarterback, someone who you can with in a pinch, but is too erratic, and isn’t a great enough athlete, to expect consistent professional production out of. Murdered by the law of averages. Mills will probably be another third round footnote.