Who is Davis Mills? Texans are turning to their new rookie QB vs. the Panthers

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·5 min read

The Houston Texans have faced multiple issues at quarterback already this year, and it’s only the third week of the season.

With Deshaun Watson still inactive due to numerous sexual assault and misconduct allegations, and now Tyrod Taylor sidelined with a hamstring injury, the Texans are officially turning to rookie quarterback Davis Mills. Head coach David Culley announced the move Tuesday. 

Outside of a few very specific circles, that’s not a name many NFL fans are familiar with.

And that makes sense.

Mills played in 14 games over three seasons in his Stanford career, and has dealt with numerous knee and leg injuries in the past. Many never expected him to see the field this season, and Yahoo Sports draft analyst Eric Edholm considered him to be a developmental prospect who needed some time in the NFL before jumping into a starting role.

So who is Davis Mills? Here’s everything you should know about the Texans’ new starting quarterback.

Mills was the top-ranked QB in his high school class

Though he suffered several knee injuries in high school, including one that followed him to Stanford, Mills was a five-star Rivals.com recruit and the top-ranked quarterback in the 2017 class.

Mills was ranked ahead of several other big-name players, too — including a few who currently have starting jobs in the NFL. Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was the No. 53 overall prospect and New England Patriots starter Mac Jones was No. 162.

The hype around the Atlanta native was massive, and plenty of top programs — including Georgia, Michigan, USC, Michigan and Alabama — all tried to land him.

He suffered what was initially believed to be a season-ending knee injury before his senior season in high school. Though he returned a few weeks later and led Greater Atlanta Christian to the state championship game, Mills hurt his knee again just five plays into that game.

“[He was] just really even-keeled,” high school coach Tim Hardy told 247 Sports. “[After his first injury] he basically controlled what he could control and tried to make the most of it. I’d say our coaching staff, including me, did not take that approach. It was the 17-year-old.

“I think that allowed him to handle his challenges at Stanford as well.”

Davis Mills started just 11 games at Stanford

Mills didn’t have much actual game experience at Stanford.

After redshirting his freshman season, Mills played in just 14 games with the Cardinal — and started only 11 in his final two seasons.

Part of that is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stanford played six games last season in a shortened, modified Pac-12 conference schedule. Mills played in five of those games and threw for more than 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns while completing better than 66% of his passes.

He took over early in the 2019 season after then-starter K.J. Costello suffered a head injury in the season-opener. The two split time upon Costello's return and Mills suffered another knee injury. He recovered and started the final three games of the year as Stanford finished with a 4-8 record. Mills threw for 1,960 yards and 11 touchdowns that season. He threw for a school-record 504 yards and three touchdowns against Washington State, though the Cardinal lost that game by 27 points.

Though he has drawn comparisons to some incredible quarterbacks, and went No. 67 overall to the Texans, many saw Mills as someone who needed at least a developmental season before being thrust into a starting role. Edholm described him as a potential “down-the-road replacement for an aging” quarterback ahead of the draft.

Though his final season at Stanford wasn’t what he wanted, he felt he could compete with the rest of the quarterbacks who entered April’s draft. After a rainy pro day, Mills seemed to back that up with the scouts in attendance.

“The feedback we got was that it was one of the best pro days some of these NFL people had ever seen,” Mills’ private quarterback coach, David Morris, told Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg. “The most impressive thing was that he was totally unfazed by being in bad conditions. It was pouring rain, 50-degree weather, and he never looked down at his hand, never asked for a dry ball, never freaked out about a dry towel. He just went through the script.”

Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills walks off the field after a 31-21 loss to the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills walks off the field after a 31-21 loss to the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Davis Mills’ first NFL showing was solid

Perhaps the best news for Texans fans headed into Thursday night is the fact that Mills’ first NFL action wasn’t terrible.

In fact, it was probably as good as Culley could have asked for.

Mills replaced Taylor in the second half of their 31-21 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday after Taylor tweaked his hamstring in the second quarter. While they didn’t win, Mills seemed to handle himself just fine.

The 22-year-old finished 8-of-18 for 102 yards through the air, and had both a touchdown and an interception. His touchdown came early in the fourth quarter, when he capped a 16-play, 75-yard drive with a two-yard toss to Brandin Cooks.

Though it may not be ideal for the Texans, Culley said Monday that he has “the utmost confidence” that Mills can hold his own.

“As the backup quarterback or the guy that is next up, you always have to be ready for anything to happen,” Mills said Sunday, via USA Today. “Even in preseason, at any moment, you mentally prepare yourself to go in there on the next play. 

"I felt like I did a good job and came out. I can improve on some stuff. A lot to learn from, but overall I didn’t think I was too rattled or wasn’t ready for the moment.”

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