The 2021 quarterback class was one of the deepest we’ve seen in recent history with names like Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones headlining it. It’s been a period of adjustment for the majority of rookie quarterbacks this year with so many thrown into the fire in disadvantageous situations, with Jones being the only prospect at the position who had really found a great deal of success in his first season. That can largely be attributed to both what he brings to the table in terms of mental processing and accuracy as a pure pocket passer and the system he landed in under Bill Belichick that so successfully develops quarterbacks of his type.
But arguably the second-most successful rookie quarterback in the 2021-22 NFL season was former Stanford quarterback Davis Mills, who became the official starter for a struggling Houston Texans team during the season.
Mills had his fair share of lows and as with any quarterback starting out at the next level, did sputter at times. He played in 13 games, completing just under 67% of his passes for 2,664 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In the Texans’ last game of the season against the division rival Tennessee Titans—though it did end in a 28-25 loss—was one of his best, if not the best outing of the season for Mills. He completed 23-of-33 passes for 301 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That’s outstanding in itself, but even more so when you take into account that the Titans had a top-10 defense in the NFL.
In his final five games of the season, Mills was good for 1,258 passing yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions, looking increasingly comfortable in the pocket, especially to be just a rookie while maintaining a solid level of accuracy and taking care of the football. The Texans won two games over that time period (41-29 versus the Los Angeles Chargers and 30-16 against the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road).
Statistically speaking, Mills’ end-of-the-season completion percentage was strong and so was his success with pushing the ball down the field—Mills had the highest passer rating on deep throws of 20 yards or more of all of the NFL’s quarterbacks, with a grade of 120.3 in the category according to Pro Football Focus. That put him directly ahead of Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals, 117.0 ), Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers, 115. 4), and Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs, 114.2) in that area. It wasn’t just the deep ball that Mills did well on, he had several good throws at different levels of the field with a variety of concepts.
It’s also important to note that we’ve seen more of Mills’ mobility and ability to evade pressure on display, something that wasn’t so apparent at Stanford. This further supports the true narrative that using his legs wasn’t something he was asked to do in college—but just because a quarterback isn’t asked to do something doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to if called upon.
At the end of the day, Mills has shown he has the foundation to become a quarterback who can help lead this team. His teammates call him “Zuckerberg” because of how smart he is and how high his football IQ is.
While this quote is from his old coach, whoever takes the Texans job is surely looking forward to the future.
“I feel like if he can continue to progress, that he's the kind of quarterback that you can win a championship with,” Texans head coach David Culley told reporters after the Titans game. “I really feel that way about him. I feel good about how he's progressed.”