The thought that rookie quarterbacks simply need some time to adjust and find a sense of rhythm is a perfectly logical one, yet modern society seems to have adopted the opposite thought—expecting a new signal-caller to swoop in and turn a franchise around single-handedly in his first year.
It’s partly because of this that several people had written Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills off not long into his first NFL season. But in the 13th game of the season, with Mills officially named as the Texans’ starter moving forward, the former Stanford passer seemed to hit his stride and find his way.
It should also be noted that Mills has an even larger leap to make in the pros, considering he only became a starting college quarterback after taking a job that originally belonged to K.J. Costello at Stanford, then playing in a limited COVID-19-shortened season before declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft. So, he never really had a true full year to reach his potential.
There’s no secret that 2-11 is a dismal overall record for a team to have, and as such a record would indicate, it is far from just Mills’ past struggles that have marred the Texans. This is a team that should appreciate small victories and it got one out of Mills on Sunday as he became the first Texans rookie quarterback to start a game with 14 straight completions, showcasing a level of accuracy and consistency Houston will want to build on moving forward.
Mills completed 33-of-49 passes for 331 yards (new career-high) with one touchdown and zero interceptions in the 33-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks—playing a solid first half with some struggles in the second half as the Texans couldn’t put it in the end zone in the final two quarters of action.
“He took care of the ball. That’s what he’s supposed to do,” coach David Culley said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the ball in the end zone in the second half, and that’s what we have to do better. Not just him, but our entire offense has to be able to do that.”
So, it’s obvious that both Mills and this offense have to be more explosive moving forward and certainly need to fill some holes to put Mills in the best position possible so we can see what he looks like at his best.
Mills showed plenty of flashes in his time at Stanford, and despite the rookie growing pains and going to a team that has far more issues than the quarterback position, still has a good foundation to be an NFL-caliber passer. What will that look like?
Looking into what Mills brings to the table, he’s a mostly accurate passer who has an underrated type of mobility that is sometimes on display (though we didn’t see much of it at Stanford because he wasn’t asked to run the ball much, hence the reason why he went through some extra drills to showcase it ahead of the draft). He has a strong football IQ after playing in one of the toughest offenses to mentally master known to the sport—David Shaw’s West Coast pro-style—where he completed 65.5% of his passes for 3,468 yards with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18-to-8.
“I’m not gonna go out there and run a 4.3,” Mills told me ahead of the draft of his mobility, which he was frequently knocked for by analysts. “I think I have the ability to maneuver the pocket and make small movements to basically buy some time in the pocket to allow myself to make plays downfield or to get the ball out to playmakers in space. But I don’t think in any case that I’m ever limited by my mobility or athleticism.”
Outside of that, he’s well-aware of what he brings to the table.
“My leadership ability and my ability to win... I think Stanford did a really good job teaching me the ins and outs of football IQ, the mental side of football,” Mills said. “I think the coaching staff there put a lot on my plate running that Stanford offense where I needed to be prepared each and every week to run the offense at a high level, make pre-snap checks, handle protection—things in that realm. I believe I have all the traits necessary to help an NFL team. I’m confident in my arm strength, accuracy, anticipation, and I think I’m a lot more athletic than people give me credit for.”
It’s still difficult to tell exactly what Mills is going to be in the long term, but he took a small step forward on Sunday. As long as the Texans can continue to develop him and build around him to give him the pieces he needs, he could become a fine starter in proper time.