HOUSTON -- He's yet to take a snap during a practice that matters, but Davis Mills will be the most talked about Houston Texans player this offseason.
That's what happens when selected with a team's first pick despite having a top-five quarterback on the roster. And while he's not a first-round gunslinger, Mills will be treated under the microscope in similar fashion.
When will he start for David Culley?
Is he in over his head?
Did Nick Caserio make a mistake when on the clock.
Expect all that and more until the season's end. Heck, some skeptics will say that well past the 2021 campaign even if Mills shows promise during his rookie season.
Deshaun Watson was expected to be the first franchise quarterback since the team's arrival in Houston back in 2002. Despite signing a four-year extension in September worth $156 million, he demanded a trade this offseason.
It was expected that Watson would be elsewhere following the NFL Draft last April before lawsuits came pouring in. He now is facing 22 civil cases of sexual misconduct and sexual assault that could keep him out of the NFL for this year.
Enter Mills, the quarterback from Stanford with plenty of upside, but much unknown overall.
Houston added Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Driskel in free agency and traded for Ryan Finley. Taylor, who has starting experience working with Culley, likely is viewed as the bridge option. Mills was drafted not to hold a clipboard, but rather be the name that could be the starter for years to come.
Culley is sold that all the intangibles are there in Mills' game. It now comes down to deliver when the lights are on and the cameras are rolling.
“He’s a prototype NFL quarterback,” Culley said following Texans' rookie camp. “He’s smart. He can make all the throws, and we feel fortunate that we were able to get him when we got him.”
The lack of film on Mills only is partially on his own merit. A knee injury from high school cost him a chance to start during his freshman season. An abbreviated Pac-12 season due to COVID-19 knocked out several starts that could have solidified him as the consensus QB6 for 2021.
Mills only started 11 games in the past two seasons. The positive? When the Pac-12 season did begin, he went 4-1 as a starter, winning his final four games in Palo Alto. During that span, the Georgia native also threw for 1,181 yards and six touchdowns against three interceptions — all of which came in the season finale against UCLA.
As for "prototypical passing" Mills averaged a rating of 151.8 during the four-game winning streak. He also averaged a completion rating of 70.7 percent in the same span.
“Obviously, he didn’t play as much football as some of the other guys because of the COVID situation in the Pac-12, but we really love what he’s all about,” Culley said. “We love all the intangibles.”
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History won't play in Mills' favor due to draft selection. Since 2000, only three quarterbacks selected in the third round have earned a Pro Bowl nod. Matt Schaub needed to be sign with the Texans to become a standout while Nick Foles flourished in doses with the Philadelphia Eagles.
For full-fledged careers, Russell Wilson is the only superstar drafted in Round 3. Without him, who knows what the Seattle Seahawks would be?
Mills' final season of college leads to doubts from the outside, but not from those close to him. Stanford coach David Shaw knows the upside the 6-foot-4 gunslinger can bring to an offense. According to the Cardinal coach, Mills would be in the running for the No. 1 pick of 2022 should he have stayed another season.
What's the harm of leaving early and learning a professional system now?
The job of Mills becoming a franchise star relies on the shoulders of pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton. As Shaw's former offensive coordinator, he already knows what style of player Mills can be at the next level.
He also knows how to get the best out of a young quarterback. Hamilton helped Andrew Luck prepare for the NFL before joining forces with him in Indianapolis. Last season, he was instrumental in the success of Justin Herbert with the Chargers.
Herbert reset the rookie record in passing touchdowns on his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He had weapons such as Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry.
The hope is that rookie wide receiver Nico Collins and tight end Brevin Jordan can be similar role players.
“If you go back and look at all the guys he’s coached through his career, you can see the one thing we love about having Pep here — all of those guys he coached, whether they were young or had been in the league, all got better,” Culley said of Hamilton.
Houston cannot rush to get Mills in the starting lineup. It's why adding a name like Driskel as a secondary option might be essential for camp. The confidence of a young quarterback could dictate the career early.
It also could destroy any progress in a matter of moments.
Mills has the backing support of his new team. He also has the seal of approval from one of the more respected coaches in NFL circles from the collegiate game. Time now will tell if anything will come of the No. 67 pick.
Fundamentals can keep a starter under center for quite some time. If all goes as plans, Mills' decision-making and accuracy will not just win him the starting job, but also win over the fanbase for years to come.
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