Davis Mills’ arm strength, size and classic throwing mechanics are rare and intriguing enough that several NFL general managers and scouts have stated privately he would have likely been a high first-round draft pick next year if he had remained at Stanford for his senior year.
The Atlanta native declared early, though, and was the eighth quarterback drafted overall following Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Kyle Trask and Kellen Mond.
The Texans are banking on the rookie quarterback’s upside, drafting him in the third round with the 67th overall selection and creating a proving ground for him this year behind veteran Tyrod Taylor.
How fast Mills develops gives a team in flux at the NFL’s most important position some flexibility going forward. If Mills is able to earn a starting job within the next year and the Texans are able to trade Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, who’s facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and has a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract, they could accelerate their rebuilding process being overseen by new general manager Nick Caserio and coach David Culley.
“Davis Mills, man, the ball comes out of his hand really nice,” an NFL scouting director said. “His release quickness is really good. There are a lot of good reasons why a lot of people around the league are saying he could have been a first-round draft pick next year if he had stayed in school. I think he’s very intriguing. I like his potential a lot.”
"Davis Mills could have been a top-five pick next year," an NFL general manager said. "I like the guy. He just had bad timing with how good this year's quarterback class was, but he should be a good pro. I like his mental makeup, his placement of the ball and the fact that he's come back strong from a knee injury. There's something about him."
The Texans’ early reviews on Mills, participating in a three-day rookie minicamp, are extremely positive.
What they gleaned from watching film of a team captain who ranked fourth nationally in completions per game as a junior last year with a 25.8 average per game: a large, athletic quarterback well-schooled in the fundamentals of the game after playing for highly respected Stanford coach David Shaw.
“Davis Mills, I thought Nick’s staff did a great job of all of a sudden earmarking a guy that fit what a quarterback in the NFL is all about,” Culley said Saturday. “Obviously he didn’t play as much football as some of the other guys because of the COVID situation in the Pac-12, but we really love what he’s all about.
“We love all of the intangibles he has. He’s a prototype NFL quarterback and we feel good to have him. He’s smart. He can make all the throws and we feel good and feel fortunate that we’re able to get him when we got him.”
A former blue-chip recruit from Atlanta who chose Stanford over Alabama and Michigan after passing for 34 touchdowns and one interception as a senior, Mills is 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and has run the 40-yard dash in 4.81 seconds. Playing in just five games last season, he was an honorable-mention All-Pac-12 selection who passed for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He set a single-game school record with a 504-yard performance against Washington State. As a sophomore, he passed for 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Mills was a five-star recruit and was the top-ranked pro-style passer in the country and the top overall recruit in Georgia. He has overcome an injury to his left knee that he suffered in the state title game as a high school senior.
Although Mills had a somewhat limited body of work with 11 career starts, he completed 65.5 percent of his career passes for 3,468 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Texans also had a comfort level with him because of their conversations with Shaw and quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton, a former Stanford assistant.
“The one thing that we liked about him and Pep talked about this when we were sitting down talking with Nick and talking about what he was all about in the evaluation process is he’s very accurate,” Culley said. “He gets it out on time. He’s very smart. He understands the passing game, because they do a very good job at it there at Stanford. He’s been in a very good play-action, run-action type of pass game, which we have a history of doing here. He fit what our model was wanting to have a guy at that position.”
Hamilton is a former Stanford offensive coordinator who coached Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert last season. Because of his background with quarterbacks like Herbert and former Colts standout Andrew Luck, the Texans leaned heavily on Hamilton’s expertise during the scouting process.
“Obviously, we had some insight on him because of Pep and because of David because of Pep actually coached him and we knew him,” Culley said. “There’s just a comfort level in knowing when you draft a guy like that and he’s had some things happen to him during his career because of the Pac-12 with the COVID situation, we knew from David and from Pep and especially from David who’ve obviously had some guys come out of there and go on and done well also that he knew exactly what we were looking for. He knew about what Davis was all about. With Pep and him understanding exactly what we were looking for, we felt like he was a good fit and we’re fortunate enough to get him.”
The Texans aren’t in a rush to insert Mills into the starting lineup. They have Taylor, a former Pro Bowl selection who was replaced by Herbert last season with the Chargers due to a medical mishap involving a painkilling injection that pierced his lung, in place as QB1 for now. If Mills ascends to the starting job, that’s fine with the Texans if he proves that he’s the best quarterback available to them.
Culley downplayed a suggestion that it’s important to evaluate Mills in game situations this year to know what they have for the future.
“We’re not looking at it like that,” Culley said. “We’re looking at it like there’s going to be competition at all positions. This is a new football team here. Basically, we’ve created competition all around this football team. Not just at the quarterback position, but basically at all positions.
“That’s why you see so many guys on this football team right now that haven’t been here. We’re going to let things play out in training camp. We’re going to go from there and then the best players that give us the best chance to win are the ones we’re going to be put on the football field regardless of position.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128