These past couple of years have been interesting as the Stanford ties have grown exponentially inside the Houston Texans organization.
Houston Texans doubling down with Davis Mills, Stanford Personnel
Davis Mills, Andrew Luck, and the Stanford offense
Although they have had different paths at the start of their respective NFL careers, It's not hard to see certain similarities between Davis Mills and Andrew Luck coming from Stanford.
Before jumping to any assumptions, Davis Mills is Davis Mills, but Andrew Luck's high level of play has been the standard for any QB coming through Stanford.
Both highly recruited high school prospects entering the Stanford program, they had different levels of success throughout their time there. Luck was a Heisman finalist and the consensus number 1 pick in the 2012 draft meanwhile Mills was the number 1 Pro-Style Quarterback high school recruit in 2017 but dealt with knee injuries that slowed him early on at Stanford. However, Mills showed enough promise leaving college early as a Day 2 prospect with only 13 games under his belt.
Getting drafted by the Texans seemed like a good fit as he would work with Pep Hamilton who was the Texans QB coach at the time, Hamilton admitted he was aware of Mills' progress through his close friend and Stanford HC, David Shaw. The intrigue only grew when Pep, Luck's former OC with Stanford and the Colts, was promoted as Houston's play-caller with Tim Kelly's departure.
Not only will Mills play for someone who was in his corner to get drafted but he will be surrounded by a lot of mutual coaches and teammates of a particular QB he admired from afar and got to interact with once he got to Stanford in Andrew Luck.
During the 2021 pre-draft process, Mills mentioned Luck as one of the quarterbacks he talked with often throughout his time at Stanford. And they will be linked together in more ways than one heading into the 2022 season.
"Growing up, a reason why I kinda leaned towards Stanford, I always liked Andrew Luck when I was growing up. And then some recent guys you have seen with a ton of success at the NFL, (Tom) Brady, (Aaron) Rodgers, and Drew Brees. I have always watched those guys and tried to pick apart some of the stuff they do well and add to my own game."
In a follow-up question about whether Luck (a former Stanford QB) had spoken with Mills, he confirmed he kept in touch throughout the draft process and went on to say he held talks with Luck before that.
"He (Luck) has. He reached out after the (2020) season. Fortunately, he was back and forth from campus at my time here at Stanford. Got to sit down a lot prior to this past (2020) season and learned a lot."
Although Mills doesn't have the hype or the amount of experience that Luck had coming out of college, it's not a stretch to say Mills is the most talented QB to come through Stanford since Luck.
Outside of former #1 draft picks and Super Bowl-winning QBs Jim Plunkett and John Elway, Luck remains one of the most decorated Stanford quarterbacks to have a productive NFL career in recent years.
Only two Stanford quarterbacks have been drafted since Luck was taken first overall in the 2012 draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Kevin Hogan, the 162nd pick of the 2016 NFL draft for the Kansas City Chiefs, and most recently, Davis Mills, the 67th overall pick for the Houston Texans in the 2021 NFL Draft.
STANFORD QB HAVE BEEN A THEME THROUGHOUT PEP'S TIME IN THE NFL
Texans newest QB addition, Kevin Hogan, had his fair share of collegiate success in Stanford after Andrew Luck left for the NFL. Daniel Bohm of Mercury News highlighted at the time how much Pep Hamilton stressed for the backup quarterbacks to shadow Andrew Luck, "I tell them, ‘As much as you can, mimic what Andrew (Luck) does,’ ” Hamilton said.
Dave Kiefer of Palo Alto Online doubled down on that sentiment while Pep was the OC and Hogan was the backup. "When Hogan was a freshman, "He had one job," offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "And that was to watch Andrew." "Sit in the back of the room," Hamilton instructed Hogan. "Be seen and not heard, and emulate everything that Andrew Luck does."
Pep spoke glowingly of Hogan at Stanford in the Palo Alto Online article, "I really think it helped Kevin (Hogan) in having that experience of being around Andrew, (Luck)" Hamilton said. "He still has a ways to go, but his poise is what makes him a special player."
Hogan may not have had the success that Luck had as a pro, but he has shown value as a backup QB in the NFL. The Texans are his 7th NFL team since entering the league in 2016 and he holds enough value in Pep's eyes to reunite with him for the third time since coaching him at Stanford and with the Cleveland Browns.
Since leaving Stanford to return to the NFL ranks, Pep has had a starting Stanford QB in 3 of his last 4 NFL jobs, Andrew Luck (Colts), Kevin Hogan (Browns), and Davis Mills (Texans). Also interesting to point out, both times Pep has held an OC role in the NFL, he will have a starting Stanford QB in place, Luck with the Colts, and now Mills with the Texans.
Pep will also have former Stanford backup QB, Robbie Picazo, as a coaching assistant on his staff. Picazo was teammates with Luck and Hogan during his time at Stanford. Both Picazo and Hogan could prove to be valuable resources that Mills can lean on. Houston also recent claimed former Stanford wide receiver, Connor Weddington, who was roommates with Mills during their time at Stanford
The run will make or break this offense
The NFL has evolved into a pass-happy league but a lot of Hamilton's quotes as Texans OC have been eerily similar to philosophies he believed firmly at Stanford and were provided by Palo Alto Online.
"We're like the old heavyweight fighters. We want the 15-round fight. We want to wear them down early in the fight, throwing the body punches, and ultimately give us the chance to hit the big play."
Pep has also valued running backs that can stay on the field and he was vocal about that during his time at Stanford
The one aspect that is taken for granted when you look at good running backs is their ability to play without the ball. We can leave Stepfan (Taylor) on the field at all times - first, second, and third down. He's not a situational player."
They aren't going to be confused as the most talented RB room in the NFL, but the Texans have a diverse group of running backs in Dameon Pierce, Marlon Mack, Royce Freeman, Dare Ogunbowale, Rex Burkhead, and Darius Anderson heading into training camp.
Houston s also keen on improving their run game by drafting Kenyon Green to bolster their offensive line and have Andy Janovich and Paul Quessenberry as their fullbacks to create more push upfront for running lanes.
2 TE sets were popular in Stanford,Colts, and now in houston
In the Palo Alto Online piece, Pep reiterated the importance of tight ends in Stanford's offense and that is something he has continued to make of a staple of his offense with the Colts and now the Texans.
"They're (TE) the quarterback's best friend," Hamilton said. "We've got to find ways to get our playmakers the ball and on third down in the red zone. We have to find a way to create matchups that are in our favor. Tight ends give us an opportunity to create those matchups."
Establishing the run and assembling a strong offensive line are priorities for a Pep Hamilton offense, he recognized it in his time at Stanford as the OC:
"I probably cost Andrew Luck the Heisman when it's all said and done, just because it's important for us to control the line of scrimmage and wear down our opponents."
The college game is a lot different than what they do at the NFL level, but Pep seems to value having a strong run game and establishing a game manager at QB before opening up the playbook.
Mills has the athleticism needed in pep's offense
No one is going to mistake Mills as a dual-threat, QB but he has the required athleticism to extend a play with his legs to get a few yards through the ground or buy some more time for his receivers to get open.
🔥🏈 Let’s talk about the development of Davis Mills (@Millsions ) and this #Texans offense— Marissa Myers (@Marissa_M27) December 24, 2021
On this play Davis Mills with the offensive line and TE do a great job of pulling to the right
Mills does a good job of selling this and gets the TD to Cooks#WeAreTexans #NFL pic.twitter.com/KM6nGQejFr
Coaches and players around the league on Mills' athleticism
“I hadn’t really heard a lot about him (Mills) before I actually watched the tape. I watched it and I was pretty impressed,” Warner said. “He’s smart with his decision-making, can make all the throws, and has the savvy to be able to extend plays with his legs and get the ball downfield.”
Lovie Smith in the 2022 offseason:
Lovie Smith on quarterback Davis Mills' performance heading into the offseason: ''He’s smart. He can throw the ball. He’s a better athlete than he’s been given credit for. We’re excited about going forward with him.'
"We don't give him enough credit for being a guy that can move around and extend plays when he has to," Hamilton said. "For a quarterback to be able to play winning football, he's got to be able to make all the throws. It's all about anticipation and accuracy. Knowing when to pull the trigger."
At the end of the day, Mills doesn't need to be the greatest athlete to be a starting QB in this modern era. You can still win from the pocket. However, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger are perfect examples of QBs that wouldn't be mistaken for being a dual-threat QB but could make plays outside the pocket.
Mills recognized in Stanford's press conference after his pro day that making plays outside the pocket is just as important as the cerebral part of playing QB.
"I think it's very important. If you're a one-dimensional QB and can only sit in the pocket and throw. You're not gonna be very good. I think you need to be athletic enough to extend plays and buy yourself some time to get the ball to your playmakers out in space. Other than just being athletic or being able to throw, I think the mental side is also really the important thing you need to focus on as well."
With the news that Davis Mills will start vs. the Panthers on Thursday, I asked Tytus Howard (.@levelstothis_2) is there a difference between blocking for a mobile QB like Taylor vs. a more traditional QB like Mills.— Coty M. Davis (@CotyDavis_24) September 21, 2021
His response: "Davis is more athletic than he seems." #Texans pic.twitter.com/GdfNS47ZDo
Mills has a lot of former Stanford personnel heading into the 2022 season. Pep Hamilton (former Stanford OC), Robbie Picazo (former Stanford QB), Kevin Hogan (Former Stanford QB), and Connor Weddington (Former Stanford WR). Mills will also play with Phillip Dorsett, who played for Pep in Indianapolis, and with Andrew Luck.
There is an infrastructure set in place to allow Mills to play similarly to how Stanford ran their offense. He will be entering his first offseason as the projected starter but this is probably the best outcome he could have wished for if he is to succeed at the NFL level.