Davis Mills is the Most Dangerous Quarterback in the NFL

Rookie quarterback Davis Mills has had a rollercoaster-like 6.5 games for the Houston Texans and his evaluation is one of many debacles that divides the fanbase this season.

Contrary to popular belief, I don't hate Davis Mills. I don't want to see him fail - that's a pretty sad way to think about the quarterback for my favorite sports team in the world. What I do want is to be realistic, so that we aren't setting too lofty of expectations for the kid and end up getting hurt in the process - we've endured enough pain already.

In a nutshell, Mills has had some bright moments this season no doubt but if the Texans are going to put their faith into him as their franchise quarterback of the future, they'll fall into the dangerous trap of mediocrity and struggle to win a Super Bowl.

To see how I came to that conclusion, let's discuss Mills' performance so far, attempt to project his future and see what that potentially means for the Houston Texans hope of turning around the organization.

Mills vs rookie QBs

Let's start this evaluation with some baseline stats that can illustrate Mills' performance compared to his peers. Scanning the Pro Football Reference box score results in a stat line that'll make most people content and certainly add enough fuel to the "Mills is playing better than other first round quarterbacks" fire. I summarized the stats of the five rookie quarterbacks - in order of draft position - who have started multiple games for their respective teams below (emitting Trey Lance due to small sample size).

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One could conclude from these basic numbers that Mills is roughly in the middle of the pack, an average rookie quarterback compared to the others in his class. I think that pairs pretty well with the eye test - he hasn't been as polished as Mac Jones or as flashy as Trevor Lawrence, but he also hasn't had as many ugly performances as Zach Wilson and Justin Fields.

There will be arguments made that Mills - with only 11 collegiate starts and having a third round draft pedigree - should be praised for playing statistically better than some first round quarterbacks with far more starting experience and I would agree with that… to an extent.

If you've followed me for long enough you'll know that I don't put all my stock into box score stats as they are often deceiving. Adding context in the form of film, advanced stats and team construction/scheme helps us accurately evaluate players, especially the quarterback position which is impacted by numerous factors.

With that being said, Davis Mills has had similarly poor and in my opinion, better team surroundings than the two quarterbacks he's arguably played better than - Wilson and Fields - which helps inflate his stats when comparing the three.

The biggest pro-Mills argument is that he's held back by play calling and I agree, but so have Fields and Wilson. It's clear that Tim Kelly runs the ball too much during neutral game scripts especially when the Texans are last in the NFL in rush offense DVOA (per Football Outsiders) plus Kelly has a fetish for WR screens that we fail to block well. Both of these factors do hurt Mills' chance at success as he's faced plenty of disadvantageous 3rd and long situations.

Similarly, Bears play caller Matt Nagy is a quarterback destroyer - not whisperer - who has set up Fields to fail by running an absurd amount of 5-wide formations (OL has no blocking help via RBs or TEs) which is mad-scientist-level-crazy when the Bears have the worst pass protecting offensive line in the NFL (per Football Outsiders). Nagy also fails to get Fields in rhythm with easy looks off of play action or bootlegs and is such a poor communicator that they told Fields he had a free play when he didn't, leading to an interception.

Furthermore, Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is a rookie at leading an offense himself and has failed to scheme around Zach Wilson's strengths that he displayed at BYU - being allergic to play action, bootlegs and struggling to time and space those concepts properly when they do finally call them. LaFleur has simultaneously put too much on Wilson's plate, asking him to operate drop back passing concepts that require a veteran level of mental execution but also handicapping Wilson by calling plenty of throws behind the line of scrimmage (25 compared to Mills' 32) leading to poor yards/attempt (Wilson and Mills both average 6.5).

Apart from play calling, these three quarterbacks also do not have much talent around them, but I would argue that Mills has the best of the three offenses which helps boost his numbers. Starting with the offensive line and for as bad as the Texans has been at run blocking, they rank 19th in Football Outsiders "Pass Protection" metric whereas the Bears rank dead last in the NFL at 32nd and the Jets rank 30th.

Furthermore, Mills has the best wide receiver on the Texans, Bears or Jets - Brandin Cooks is on pace for another 1,000+ yard season and has an absurd catch rate of 73% (career high since rookie season). With how much rookie quarterbacks tend to lean on their WR1, Mills has a distinct advantage over both Fields (Allen Robinson has the least separation yards of his career) and Wilson (Corey Davis has missed two games and only has 50+ yards in two games). Their supporting casts are pretty comparable, with Mills having Nico Collins+Danny Amendola, Fields having Darnell Mooney+Marquise Goodwin and Wilson having Elijah Moore+Keelan Cole.

I bring these points up not to entirely discredit Mills' performance (he's been fairly average for a rookie) but to provide context which should cool down the talks that he is a better player than Fields and Wilson. Will he be one day? I can't rule that out, but if I asked you if you'd rather have Fields, Wilson or Mills as the Texans quarterback of the future, I think the answer to that question would display where the confidence in the room is leaning and leads to my next point.

Is Davis Mills a Truck or a Tractor

I want to start this section off with an insightful analogy by former NFL player and current analyst, Bucky Brooks. His tweet about the different types of quarterbacks really struck me and aligns with my view of Davis Mills.

So much of the optimism around Davis Mills stems from the fact that he's dealt with a horrible situation and so he doesn't have a proper chance to succeed. I think that narrative is true but a bit overblown as mentioned in the previous section, but it's an interesting thought because in my eyes Mills is a trailer, not a truck.

If you give trailers perfect play calling, pass protection, weapons and a defense, they can have great statistical seasons and even win you a few playoff games. Some quarterbacks who come to mind that fit this bill are Browns' Baker Mayfield, Titans' Ryan Tannehill, Vikings' Kirk Cousins, 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo and Lions' Jared Goff (well, the Rams version of him). If Davis Mills hits this tier of outcomes, that'd be a pretty great value for a third round pick.

However, these trailers' regular season success can be dangerously deceiving. The lack of raw talent eventually catches up to them when they face the best of the best, on the biggest stage. Even with elite offensive play callers and elite personnel around them, these trailers fail to rise to the occasion and are often weighing their teams down with a huge drop in play.

Below is a comparison of two trailer quarterbacks who had career years, played three playoff games and managed to make the Super Bowl but lost, largely due to their poor performances.

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Arguably the best offensive minds in football right now, Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan moved on from Goff and Garoppolo (intended to at least) because they realized they had trailers leading the huddle, not trucks.

It goes to show that even if you manage to build a Super Bowl caliber roster around a trailer quarterback, you'll get bested by a team who has a truck quarterback (Tom Brady in 2018/2019 and Patrick Mahomes in 2019/2020. So, what makes a quarterback a trailer or a truck and why do I believe Mills is the former, not the latter?

At the end of the day, rookie quarterback's stats are not very important in the grand scheme of things. People will argue that plenty of historic quarterbacks had ugly rookie seasons and that is true, development is a thing. In my opinion, since stats are so deceiving and require so much context to truly judge and understand, traits are a better indicator of talent and future success.

So the next question becomes, which traits are most important for quarterbacks and has Mills shown said traits thus far? Quarterbacks are not an exact science, however there have been some clear trends as to how the position has been evolving in recent years.

Credit to Carter Donnick, who wrote a great piece for The Draft Network detailing what traits make a quarterback "Pro Ready". I highly recommend you check out the full article, but I'll summarize/paraphrase his thoughts as well.

Firstly, quarterbacks with great mobility tend to have a higher floor and are afforded more time to develop the mental side of the game because they aren't taking detrimental sacks that kill confidence and development. In addition, quarterbacks who have great athleticism - or at least an athletic trait to hang their hat on - have a huge initial advantage too. The following is a great excerpt, by Carter.

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Another nugget I found interesting is that recent quarterbacks who had a relative athletic score (combines all athletic test measurements and averages them among position) of 7/10 or greater seem to be quarterback's who you'd categorize as a truck (Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson). While recent quarterbacks with a RAS below 7 have already flamed out or have proven to be trailers - Baker Mayfield (4.71/10), Jared Goff (6.1) and Josh Rosen (6.87) are some good examples.

Looking at Davis Mills, he's below that magical number seven, scoring a 6.61/10 which corresponds with the eye test pretty well - he's not a horrible athlete, but he's just average. In addition, a crucial trait and something the RAS test doesn't account for is arm talent. As Carter said, quarterbacks are going to make mistakes, and if you're late on a read - like Mills often is - having that extra velocity on your throw can be the difference between a touchdown and an interception.

From watching Mills throw you wouldn't say he has a noodle arm but it's not a cannon like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes or Justin Herbert have. It's not even on Deshaun Watson's level and is closer to a name I keep bringing up, Baker Mayfield. This average/slightly above average arm strength has hurt Mills so far as 4/8 of his INTs have been on late throws into a tight window, plus he's been very inaccurate deep down the field.

Per Sports Info Solutions Mills has attempted 16 "Deep" passes but completed just 4 of them - often due to under-throws - for an ugly 25% completion rate. Comparing that to the 2021 rookie class we see why I have concerns with Mills' ceiling in this regard. Trevor Lawrence's completion percentage on "Deep" passes is 43%, Wilson's is 48%, Fields' is 30% and Jones' is 28%.

The last trait I'll bring up is pocket management. Some of the exceptions to the "athletic quarterbacks have the best chance at success" argument like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning all have elite mental traits. While that is something that can markedly improve over time (unlike athleticism), the pocket management aspect of the mental game is something that most quarterbacks show early, or never at all.

Davis Mills has shown some wiggle and ability to evade a defender, again, he's not horrible in this regard, but he's struggled to command the pocket and has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL in contributing to his own sacks.

These stats were compiled before the Texans faced the Rams in Week 8 - where Mills took a season high 5 sacks - so it wouldn't surprise me if he's at the top of this list the next time the data is compiled.

I find this stat particularly worrisome for Mills because of his play style. He's not a statue in the pocket but I don't think anyone would classify Mills' mobility and off-script playmaking in the same tier as Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes, let alone Justin Fields and Zach Wilson.

Those guys all make incredible plays with their legs, buying time and extending plays, which naturally leads to being more responsible for their sacks - think about Deshaun Watson taking sacks while playing a bit too much hero ball.

You live with those sacks from Watson and even Wilson and Fields because you know, more often than not, they are going to make the right play and a drive-altering play at that. Conversely, Mills is best from within the pocket, not outside of it and thus the sacks he's responsible for are more indicative of poor quarterback play. Watch the film of Mills and you'll see that he'll hold onto the ball for too long after missing a read, or escape the pocket unnecessarily due to a lack of composure under pressure.

We've seen more and more elite athletes at quarterback who had decision making issues in college, have major success at the NFL level. Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are perfect examples of this thought and while Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields haven't lit the league on fire just yet, they have the elite athletic traits which put them on a similar projected trajectory.

Unfortunately, Mills has none of these traits, he's raw mentally due to his 11 collegiate starts at Stanford, is just an average athlete and has struggled to command the pocket. I'm tired of saying he has an average this and an average that. What is his elite trait that he can hang his hat on and find elite success with?

My point here is not that Mills is a bust but that his simply average stats and average traits will limit his ceiling to a trailer quarterback and that has historically killed NFL teams' chances at winning the Super Bowl.

The Danger in Mediocrity

The worst place to be in the NFL is in the middle. Teams stuck in the vortex of mediocrity find it incredibly difficult to contend for the ultimate goal of football - to win the Super Bowl. Your team isn't good enough to consistently make deep playoff runs, nor is it bad enough to garner a premium draft pick to land a truck quarterback and turn around your franchise - this is my nightmare scenario for the Houston Texans.

As fans, we've gone so long between having a franchise quarterback and just got our savior ripped out of our hands. Our quarterback talent between Matt Schaub and Deshaun Watson has been arguably the worst in the NFL. So we know exactly what it feels like to deal with quarterback play ranging from unwatchable to mediocre. We also know what it feels like to watch a franchise talent, like Watson.

I don't think Davis Mills will end up on either extremes of that spectrum - unwatchable or franchise talent - but like most tricky questions, the answer is likely somewhere in the middle. Mills is the type of guy who is easy to root for - he says all the right things, has a clean background and is seemingly humble and respectful.

This makes Mills the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL because he's also the type of guy who is very easy to make excuses for - we're hearing them already and I don't expect them to stop any time soon. From a team building perspective, making excuses and having faith in a trailer like Mills is the worst thing the Texans can do.

It's incredibly difficult to build a supporting cast strong enough to get a trailer quarterback to the Super Bowl, let alone win one. It requires near perfection from GMs - drafting, free agency and trades, the big moves for stars and the ones around the margins for key role players, the timing of when to be aggressive and when to save cap space - it'll all need to pristine. The NFL has such a small margin for error already, making the wrong decision at quarterback makes that margin nearly invisible.

I don't think the Texans deserve the fans' blind faith in ownership and management to be perfect. They'll have to make a decision on what to do at the most important position in football and if they deem Mills to be the guy, they'll waste some good rosters and deal with years of excuses until they finally have to bite the bullet and move on, just like McVay and Shanahan did with Goff and Garoppolo.

The Texans are at ground zero, we haven't seen enough from Nick Caserio to have undying faith that he's a Super Bowl caliber GM - his biggest tests are ahead of him. We certainly don't have a Super Bowl caliber head coach and the pitchforks are out quicker than expected for poor David Culley. We obviously don't even have a playoff contending roster that a trailer quarterback would need to be at his best.

So why should we place our future in the hands of a player who needs everything around him to be perfect, when we have none of those perfect surroundings yet? This regime has set up too many players for failure and the sooner the Texans realize that they need a truck not a trailer, the better.