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Davis Mills: The Savior of Thursday Night Football?

Sharply inhale through clenched teeth...

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

When you select a quarterback in the third round of the NFL Draft, expectations on said player are usually pretty low. Especially when you have a Pro Bowl quarterback and a solid veteran signal caller on the roster.

But as we all know Deshaun Watson is on ice, and so is Tyrod Taylor’s hamstring. Which leaves us with the third round, low expectation guy, Davis Mills.

The 6’4”, 217 lb. Mills is certainly big enough to play the role of an NFL quarterback. In his three seasons at Stanford, Mills played in 14 games and completed 287 of 438 passes for a completion percentage of 65.5. Those passes went for 3,468 yards, a 7.9 yard per pass average, 18 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and a 141.9 passer rating.

On the surface, those are respectable numbers. But that span involved just 33 games, with Mills commanding the offense in only 14 of them. One of those 14 games was a bowl game in 2018 when Mills took the field very briefly and threw two incomplete passes. There’s question mark #1.

While at Stanford, Mills ran the ball 63 times for 86 yards at a Dan Marino-esque 1.4 yards per carry. If you’re going to be compared to Marino, that’s not how you want it to go. Saying Mills doesn’t fit the Watson/Taylor mobile, strong-armed quarterback model is an understatement.

What model does he fit? Case Keenum and Tom Savage. There’s question mark #2.

In high school, Mills was selected to the US Army All-American Bowl roster but was unable to play due to a knee injury he suffered in the Georgia state championship game. In 2019, Mills suffered a left leg injury against Washington, making him unavailable for Stanford over the following three games. Many describe his college career as “plagued with nagging injuries.”

That’s question mark #3.

Davis Mills Career Highlights

In 2017, Davis Mills was a 5-star recruit, rated the #1 quarterback in the class, ahead of Miami Dolphin Tua Tagovailoa, whom many have linked to the Houston Texans in a possible trade scenario for Watson. Mills entered the NFL with an 18-8 touchdowns to interceptions ratio in college. Despite this, injuries prevented him from maximizing his opportunities to be Stanford’s full-time starter for three of the four years he played there.

Davis Mills Pre-Draft Analysis

The Athletic

A loose, well-built passer, Mills shows the ability to scan, operate from various platforms and throw with touch/anticipation. He is one of the best middle-of-the-field passers in the draft, but needs time to grow and eliminate the “what are you doing?” plays from his tape.

Pro Football Network

Started 11 games for Stanford the past two seasons. Physically-gifted quarterback with a next-level arm. Possesses terrific size, can spin the ball, and throws all his passes with speed. Spreads the ball around to all his targets, quickly identifies the open wideout, and flashes the ability to beautifully place the ball into receivers’ hands.

Late pulling the trigger and has receivers waiting on the pass. Was a little erratic with his accuracy and pass placement last season. Unpolished and does not have a large body of work at the college level.

Mills possesses prototypical physical skills for the next level, offering outstanding size as well as arm strength. He possesses the ability to throw all the passes and flashed dominance at Stanford, but he needs more playing time and a good quarterbacks coach before he’s NFL-ready.

There isn’t going to be an excessive amount of tape on Mills, but teams will see a player with below-average mobility, good size and plenty of arm talent for passing attacks looking to open up the entire field. Mills is still in the developmental stage as it pertains to his ability to command the offense and play chess against coverages and blitz looks. He’s made for a play-action attack that can promote his timing as a passer and help keep him protected. The injury background and lack of experience are potential stumbling blocks, but the talent is better than the production and worthy of a middle-round pick for development as a good backup to low-end starter.

Walter Football

As a football player, there is no doubt that Mills needs development, and starting only 11 games in college has slowed down his maturation. Mills should have gone back to school to get more playing experience before moving on to the NFL, but he decided to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. Mills could start out as a backup in the NFL, but he possesses the physical talent to develop into a pro starter. He has a shot at being a second-day pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and could be a mid-rounder.

All of this amounts to the same subplot many of us have seen far too many times: a high potential project player pushed into a starting role far too early. If Mills is to develop into a quality quarterback, throwing him to the wolves this week isn’t going to help.

The Carolina Panthers currently hold the #1 spot in defensive yards allowed per game, with a stingy 190 so far against the New York Jets (hardly an offensive world power) and the New Orleans Saints (a team that dominated the Green Bay Packers in Week One). The Panthers have only given up 287 total passing yards and 93 rushing yards.

The Houston Texans’ offense, without Tyrod Taylor, has only passed for 102 yards (granted, that’s only half a game). The run game has been unexpectedly poor, gaining only 242 yards total this season, with an average per carry at a meager 3.5 yards.

While Tim Kelly’s offense has great potential and is far, far superior to Bill O’Brien’s, having a rookie quarterback make his first NFL start under the bright lights and pressure cooker of a nationally televised game doesn’t bode well. Especially if he isn't wearing #4 on his jersey and sporting an NCAA championship ring on his finger.

If Deshaun Watson was starting, you could mark this down as the Panthers’ first loss of the season. If Taylor was starting, you still might do the same. With Mills, be prepared for a lot of sharp inhales through clenched teeth.

Yet as said before, the Texans need to lose so they can win in next year’s draft. Maybe then Mills can be a great back-up to Matt Corral, Sam Howell, Spencer Rattler or Malik Willis.