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The Houston Texans and The Silver Lining to Davis Mills’ First Start

With C.J. Stroud hurt, what can we expect out of Davis Mills in 2023?

Houston Texans v New York Jets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Entering Thursday night, it is appearing less and less likely rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud will be able to clear concussion protocol in time for Sunday’s game vs. the Tennessee Titans.

C.J. Stroud still has yet to clear concussion protocol, and the team appears to be preparing as if backup quarterback Davis Mills is the starter…Yes, you read that correctly, it is that time again. It is time for watch some more Davis Mills!


That’s right, baby! I hope you’re ready to see The Return of the Neck! Even though it is not under the most graceful of circumstances, this is the opportunity all Mills defenders have been pining for all season. They may carry a reputation within the community, but the Mills defenders represent an inevitable element to every football team’s fanbase: a group desperate to see what could be behind curtain #2.

The backup quarterback position is the position that invites the most speculation and dream-weaving among all of the 53 roster spots. Simultaneously an unimportant and extremely important position on the roster, the backup quarterback is used to being the shadow of the team - most hoping to never see them, but vitally important on a cloudy day. If the injury bell tolls for the starting passer, the backup is now the key to keeping the offense on track. They must be good, but not too good. Worth their paycheck, but not excessively expensive. They occupy a space where they are not expected to be giant-slayers, but must be capable of doing so at the drop of a hat. It’s like the old saying goes: “you’re only as good as your backup quarterback.”

This season, out of all seasons, proves the validity of that phrase. It has been absolute chaos for starting quarterbacks this year, Houston being the 18th NFL team out of 32 to start a backup at some point during the 2023 season. There’s usually a good quarter of the league that is stuck with their backup every year due to injury or some other circumstance, but this is ridiculous. It’s all but guaranteed there will be a backup quarterback starting a playoff game this season, and it’s not impossible for two to face off against each other! Backups have played more meaningful snaps this season than ever before, which means there’s bound to be some turnover during the following offseason. This is the year many backups will turn the opportunity into a fruitful career, and many others will see their professional aspirations dashed away. Where they land next year will depend entirely on how good they look in the limited snaps they’re given in relief effort, Davis Mills included.

Although, Davis Mills occupies a rather exceptional position on this Houston Texans roster. One of the most tenured players on team and Nick Caserio’s first draft pick as Texans General Manager, Mills started 26 games throughout the dredges of the 2021-2022 seasons. On its face, that’s an impressive statistic given the lukewarm hype surrounding Mills entering the 2021 NFL Draft and the fact he was a third round selection. But, as with many bad teams, the truth is far more complicated.

I’ll spare you the intricate lore that hangs like an albatross around Mills’ well-equipped neck, especially since I just went through most of it in an article I wrote of Mills just a few weeks ago. Most praise of Davis Mills - mostly originating from his scattered acolytes - is rooted in these primary beliefs:

  • His decision making and command of an NFL offense were surprisingly strong, even from early on in his career.
  • He has a few throws every game that are fantastically executed and placed right in the hands of his receiver. Great arm and ball placement, especially outside the numbers.
  • Shows enough flashes of brilliance to make you think how good he could be, if on a better roster.

While I have to admit I turned in my Davis Mills Fan Club card back in 2022, I can see where the stans are coming from. Davis Mills has a few moments in every game that make you pause and wonder what he could be capable of, but any Texans fan that was around for last year knows it doesn’t take long for him to change your mind. Most rebuttals by those that were not in favor of the Davis Mills Experience looked something like:

  • He’s far too inconsistent to be trustworthy as an NFL quarterback. HIs accuracy and decision making are all over the place.
  • His pocket awareness is absolutely terrible and his fumbles have ruined too many games.
  • He’s part of the reason Houston had one of the worst offenses in the league for two straight years, and his stats were padded by garbage time drives.

All valid points, as well. So where does the truth lie? Well, this is the part where I would say somewhere in the middle, but…I don’t really know. You see, I’ve watched all of the Mills highlights reels, the lowlight reels, his all-22 tape, and even done some collegiate analysis, and I just can’t come to a conclusion on him. He certainly has the size, arm, and brain of an NFL quarterback, but his infrequency of getting it all to work together for a full game left me with some serious scar tissue after the 2022 season. But, you sit there and you stare at some of his best plays, and you wonder: how much of this is his fault? How much better could he have been with a better group of receivers? Or a better coach? Maybe he just needs a few years to adjust to the NFL? He truly is an enigma.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

And therein lies the silver lining of this upcoming football game. Even though it means a pause to C.J. Stroud’s magical rookie campaign, it’s an opportunity for Houston to see if all these theories surrounding Mills hold any water. Heck, they might as well join the legion of NFL teams currently relying on their backup quarterback. Unlike those other teams, though, the Texans have already had a long in-house look at Davis Mills, and apparently liked him enough to keep him on the roster despite a new head coach.

And not only a new head coach, but a new offensive coordinator, new linemen, an almost completely refreshed corps of receivers, and a new running back. Davis Mills survived some serious turnover, and now, by some miracle, has found himself on a team in playoff contention! Despite all the new faces, this is by far the most talented team Mills has ever been a part of. Even with rookie receiver Tank Dell done for the season and fellow 2021 classmate Nico Collins potentially out with a hamstring injury, this is still the best group of receivers Mills has ever had. On top of this, Houston finally has a rushing attack that is not literally the worst in the league, so I’m sure Mills will be happy to see more short-yardage downs, even if they will still be infrequent.

It certainly is scary entering this final slate of games at 7-6 and relying on Davis Mills to save the day, but it’s hard not to be intrigued by this moment in Texans history. One of the most controversial quarterbacks in team history may be playing his last game/s as a Texan and is doing it with a dramatically improved roster. What will he do against the Titans? Will it be anything like that legendary performance he had in the 2021 season finale? Will Bobby Slowik make him play conservative, or will he cut Mills loose? Has Mills improved as a quarterback since 2022, or is he still the same old guy? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Personally, since I’ve always been a bit biased towards Mills, I’m hoping for a good performance. I’m not looking for anything as impressive as C.J. Stroud, but a solid 200+ yard game with a couple touchdowns would be very encouraging to see. A game with those statistics and few of his patented pretty passes outside the numbers would convince me Davis Mills deserves to be the Texans’ backup, at least for the next season or two. Against a pretty tough Titans’ pass-defense won’t make that easy, but I have trust in Texans’ receiver Noah Brown and tight end Dalton Schultz to be reliable players in Mills’ first start of the season. Although, no Mills game would be complete without a disastrous fumble, which I think he will cough up at some critical juncture, but it will not be enough to cause defeat.

And with that, I’ll leave you with my three favorite Davis Mills plays. C.J. Stroud is fun, but now is the game to get back to old-school, stomach-churning Houston Texans football! Welcome back, Davis Mills!