With Davis Mills Cruising, Texans Should Not Look for a QB in 2022 NFL DraftDecember 29, 2021
Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills isn't going to gain any traction for Offensive Rookie of the Year, though in recent weeks, he may have garnered some support to start under center in 2022.
In Week 14, Mills replaced journeyman signal-caller Tyrod Taylor for the second time this season. Over the past three weeks, he's performed at the level of a capable pro, throwing for 794 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception while the Texans went 2-1.
Last week, Mills engineered two scoring drives and completed a career-high 77.8 percent of his passes against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Though the Chargers didn't have All-Pro safety Derwin James (hamstring) or four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa (reserve/COVID-19 list), Mills' performance likely opened some eyes as he consistently stood in the pocket and delivered accurate strikes:
With nine starts in 11 appearances, Mills seems comfortable within the Texans offense, and wideout Chris Conley broke down a 41-yard touchdown play in which Mills read the defense perfectly and made a great decision: "In that instance, Davis was able to recognize the coverage and put it up. It's not a play that was scripted to go deep, but he took a chance right there, and I think that message was seen throughout the day—a lot of guys trusting each other to go out there and make plays—and it paid off."
When a young quarterback makes plays like that, he builds confidence and garners trust from his teammates along with the coaching staff.
In Week 2, Mills replaced Taylor, who suffered a hamstring injury, and went through some rocky outings. In starts against the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals, he threw six interceptions combined and zero touchdowns.
On the flip side, he had flashed some promise in a matchup with the New England Patriots, who rank third in yards allowed with the second-most interceptions. In that Week 5 contest, he threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns in a near upset over a squad that usually picks apart inexperienced passers.
After about six weeks in a backup role, Mills rejoined the starters with some poise and a stronger grip on the pro game. He went into detail about his growth during a learning period:
"When they called my number, I was ready. It felt like the game started to slow down more for me. I have a really good feel of what we're trying to do on offense, and the time just gave me more time to build chemistry week in and week out with my receivers so we're all on the same page. And I felt like it was good, and I feel like I'm playing some good football right now."
During Monday's press conference, head coach David Culley talked about Mills' development from the spring up until this point.
"I've seen Davis grow a lot since we stepped foot here in rookie minicamp, OTAs," Culley told reporters. "You can tell he's really stacking his days, really trying to work on the things he needs to improve on. You can tell he's getting comfortable. He's still growing."
Culley didn't provide meaningless quotes to pat Mills on the back. The Stanford product, who only made 11 starts on the collegiate level mostly because of injuries, stacks up well when compared to a couple of his peers who went Nos. 1 and 2 in this year's draft. He has a higher passer rating (86.2) and completion rate (66.6) than Trevor Lawrence (70.6 and 58.7 percent) and Zach Wilson (67.9 and 56.7 percent).
While Mills plays in a different situation than Lawrence and Wilson, which makes it difficult to compare all three quarterbacks fairly, we should acknowledge that the Texans didn't come into the season with a loaded roster.
Sure, Mills has wideout Brandin Cooks, but he's the only player on the team with more than 30 receptions. In Houston's previous outing, running back Rex Burkhead passed Mark Ingram II to lead the club in rushing yards (356), which says a lot when you consider the front office traded the latter to the New Orleans Saints after Week 7.
Mills has played well with upstart playmakers around him, and since his return to the starting lineup, fellow 2021 draftees Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan have made contributions in the passing game. With a viable aerial attack, the Texans offense has come alive.
If Mills continues to play well against two playoff-caliber opponents in the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans in the final two games, the Texans may overlook the 2022 quarterback class. Next year's group doesn't appear to feature a star prospect, and Houston may address other positions with its top selections.
With a full offseason of first-team reps, continuity with his top pass-catchers and the addition of a dynamic playmaker in the backfield, Mills may show significant progress through the 2022 campaign.
Assuming the Texans move on from Deshaun Watson, who requested a trade before he faced 22 accusations of sexual assault and misconduct, general manager Nick Caserio may already have his succession plan at quarterback in the rookie third-rounder.
If not and Mills falls apart, Houston can look toward the 2023 draft and target 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, who can declare as an underclassman out of Alabama, or Heisman Trophy Finalist C.J. Stroud from Ohio State.
At the very least, Mills' recent performances should encourage the Texans to weigh their options and go with the best player available regardless of position. Caserio doesn't have to reach for a quarterback.
At the top of the 2022 draft, the Texans may want to consider edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson, edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, safety Kyle Hamilton or cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. to bolster their 29th-ranked scoring defense. Looking further ahead, they can monitor Mills' growth through the 2022 season.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @MoeMoton.