The quarterback position is easily the most important on the football field. It might be the single most important position in all of team sports. Hockey fans might say the goalie is more important, but I don’t know enough about hockey to debate them on that point. Quarterback certainly was one of the focal points to the draft and the entire offseason. Have the Houston Texans gotten it right?
The spotlight is on C.J. Stroud and rightfully so. David Carr is the only quarterback in franchise history to get a higher draft pick. You could argue that he comes more highly acclaimed than any quarterback in Texans history. He certainly had a higher draft grade than Carr and was pretty much equal to Name Redacted 2.0. While we will spend all kinds of time and column inches talking about Stroud, the bigger question is whether he is surrounded with the right people in the quarterback room.
We will look at all three quarterbacks currently on the roster. We will look at their career numbers (college numbers for Stroud) in addition to the PFF scores from the previous season. Obviously, since there are fewer guys, we can spend a little more time analyzing them and their value to the team.
PFF Scores of 80 or above— Perennial Pro Bowl player or College All-American
PFF Scores 70-79— A solid college or pro starter
PFF Scores 60-69— Somewhere between Rotational player and solid starter
PFF Scores Below 60— Rostered player or special teams performer
Let’s Meet the Quarterbacks
Case Keenum— 14,884 yards, 62.3%, 78 TD, 48 INT, 85.2 Rating, 28.8 PFF
Keenum’s PFF grade came in a little more than 20 snaps. That’s a little over a quarter’s worth of plays. Small sample sizes make any number irrelevant and that is why we are using the career numbers in the first place. When you look at Keenum’s whole career then a lot comes into focus.
One can debate exactly who would make the ideal backup quarterback. If we are given a choice of three characteristics we would likely choose the following. First, the quarterback should know the offense backwards and forwards so they can assist the starting quarterback. Secondly, it needs to be a guy that is comfortable in that role. We don’t need anyone that will snipe behind the scenes. Finally, you want a guy that can keep your team in ballgames if they are forced to play.
Keenum checks all of those boxes. There was a time when people thought he was a starting quarterback. For those that love history they should look up the name Earl Morrall. He was the AP MVP for the Baltimore Colts in 1968, but lost the Super Bowl and just wasn’t quite good enough to be a full-time starter in the league. Keenum is similar in that he has functioned as a starting quarterback and had a Pro Bowl type season with Vikings in 2017. He just couldn’t sustain it.
Davis Mills— 5,782 yards, 63.6%, 33 TD, 25 INT, 83.3 Rating, 61.9 PFF
Mills was 32nd in PFF last year in the NFL out of 38 quarterbacks. God love him. He thinks he still deserves to be the starting quarterback of this team. He even told the media after the season that he proved he could win games in this league. Mills isn’t a terrible quarterback. He grades out as a solid backup. He’s just not in a position where he is willing to accept that yet.
We could apply a ton of snark about a lack of self-awareness but self-awareness shouldn’t necessarily come to anyone when they are 24 or 25 years old. I certainly didn’t have it back then. You want the potential face of your franchise to be a guy that believes in himself and his ability to win. So, Mills belief that he should be the starting quarterback doesn’t bother me or concern me on that level.
The concern is that he won’t be. He can’t be. Even if Stroud is not ready to go, it really can’t be Mills. Keenum is much more prepared to not only keep this team in games, but also help Stroud see what he is doing and why he made the decisions he made. Mills can’t really do that. Moreover, he probably doesn’t want to do that. He wants to be the guy. Maybe he can be that guy somewhere else, but it won’t happen here.
C.J. Stroud— 8,108 yards, 68.9%, 85 TD, 12 INT, 127.9 Rating, 88.9 PFF (Rookie Stats)
In a truly philosophical sense, what do these numbers even mean? Case Keenum put up numbers better than this at the University of Houston. Yet, who were the Cougars playing and who were the Buckeyes playing? People could also point out the number of first round picks that Stroud played with. It all gets baked into the same cake.
Scouts have to tell us where they project a guy at the next level. How do his skills compare to other quarterbacks in the quarterback universe? Ultimately, so much rests on his shoulders and it really isn’t fair. PFF rates Stroud as the 30th best starting quarterback in the NFL. He rates better than Desmond Riddler and Anthony Richardson. That’s it.
In practical terms there are two questions. First, can he be better than Davis Mills in the short-term? Really, I can’t see how he can’t be. He has better all-around skills than Mills. The second question is what his ceiling is going to be. That’s the question we really can’t answer yet. We just have to wait and watch.
The Final Verdict
In a perfect world, the Texans would change their quarterback room slightly. Keenum is a good backup for Stroud, but you probably either want a more athletic guy that could become a developmental quarterback or Mills needs to adjust his own expectations of who he is and what role he needs to fulfill. This season they will just have to deal with what they have, but a developmental or athletic quarterback might be a future target beyond this season.