The 2021 quarterback class carries with it a great deal of subjectivity. That’s not necessarily unique from other years, but the discrepancy between the top group and the depth tier is extremely distinct. After the top four quarterbacks, different teams may have very different rankings. One NFL Draft prospect who might unexpectedly ascend in that process is Stanford quarterback Davis Mills.
Davis Mills NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 225 pounds
Current Year: Redshirt Junior
Natural talent is one thing that can separate prospects at an early age, but at quarterback, that talent is even more noticeable. Young athletes who show the natural, cerebral ability as a passer are the ones who attract the most interest early on. Davis Mills generated that interest in high school.
Hailing from Norcross, Georgia, Mills was an extremely productive high school passer. He led his team to three regional titles and two state championship games, earning runner-up honors at both. Mills was a four-star prospect on ESPN, but a five-star at various other outlets. He had offers from prestigious schools like Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan. However, three visits to Stanford endeared Mills to the campus, and he committed to the Cardinal in the spring of 2016.
Davis Mills’ career as a Stanford quarterback
As promising as Mills’ prospective professional career appeared in high school, he never quite lived up to his potential at the collegiate level. Despite coming onto campus with plenty of prestige, Mills redshirted his freshman campaign and failed to log any game action. In 2018, Mills was rostered but sat behind K.J. Costello as the backup. He only threw two passes, neither of which was completed.
Entering the 2019 season as a redshirt sophomore, the once-heralded Mills still awaited his chance. He started the season as the backup, but after Costello failed to stay on the field due to injuries, Mills started to earn his chances as the Stanford quarterback. He logged his first start against USC, and ended up starting six games. Over that span, Mills completed 158 of 241 attempts for 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Davis Mills’ final season with the Stanford Cardinal
With his production down the stretch in 2019, Mills usurped the starting job from Costello, and Costello transferred to Mississippi State as a result. Mills entered the year as the starter, but the 2020 season was in jeopardy.
The Pac-12 eventually set off with a delayed, truncated schedule, and Mills returned to the field in Stanford’s second game against Colorado. From there, Mills completed 129 of 195 passes for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions, helping Stanford to a 4-1 finish.
After leading the Cardinal to a double-overtime win against UCLA in the Rose Bowl, Mills declared for the 2021 NFL Draft as a redshirt junior.
Analyzing Davis Mills’ NFL Draft profile
Before several mid-round quarterback options chose to return to school, Davis Mills was fairly safe in the Day 3 range. Now, however, with the depth of the 2021 quarterback class stunted, Mills is somewhat of a wild card. He has a few characteristics that might endear him to NFL scouts, thus inflating his draft range.
First and foremost, Mills fits the old-school, prototypical passer mold almost to a tee, at least from a physical standpoint. He’s big, standing at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, and he has a fairly strong arm.
Mills’ natural talent as a thrower was part of what made him such a highly-touted prospect, and he certainly brings that to the table. Mills can generate good velocity on his throws, especially in the short and intermediate ranges. He has a nice, generally compact throwing motion, and a wide base. He also has some limited capacity to produce off-script.
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Mills is most certainly a pocket passer, but he does have enough density to withstand one-on-one contact. He also has enough speed to evade when he has space. Furthermore, Mills shows good flashes of craftiness. He stays aware of his options as he scrambles, and on more than one occasion, he feigned running to open up an underneath option, then flipped it away once he drew the linebacker’s attention. That real-time play manipulation will be valuable at the next level.
What are the concerns with Davis Mills?
Some of Mills’ deficiencies can be coached back up. However, the Stanford quarterback may be somewhat limited in the modern NFL. Mills has modest propensity to evade the rush and scramble, but it’s not a strength of his. Mills is only an average athlete. While he has some spryness, he’s not particularly elusive or creative as a runner. When plays break down, Mills doesn’t always have the capacity to adapt and create.
On top of Mills’ limitations as a modern-age quarterback, he also has room to improve within his sphere. The Stanford quarterback has shown the ability to go through progressions in spurts, but his decision making can be inconsistent. Sometimes, he’ll fail to pull the trigger with timeliness, and other times, he’ll try to force the ball in unsavory situations.
Additionally, Mills doesn’t quite understand how to use his eyes as a weapon. Right now, they’re a weakness. In the 2020 Rose Bowl alone, all three of Mills’ interceptions could be attributed to him leading the safety to the ball with his eyes and failing to recognize it. Mills’ tendency of staring down his primary options will get him into trouble if he doesn’t clean it up in the NFL. Moreover, Mills doesn’t have the consistent accuracy downfield to make those plays work on pure talent.
Davis Mills’ best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
There’s definite appeal with Mills, and for old-school NFL minds, that appeal will be compounded. Mills has the size and arm talent to fit the prototypical passing mold. He also has a modest degree of toughness in the pocket. He’s not an absolute liability on the ground, either. Having said that, there’s a lot Mills still has to clean up if he wants to eventually start in the NFL.
Mills is a pocket passer. As teams trend away from the pocket passer mold, Mills’ skill set is becoming increasingly outdated. For a pocket passer to succeed in the modern NFL, they have to be a lightning-quick processor with stellar decision making and ball placement.
Mills isn’t there yet in any of those categories. He could improve his placement with more consistent mechanics in the face of pressure, and NFL coaching may help him refine his mental game. But until that happens, he has a long way to go.
Where does Mills mesh as a developmental player?
As of now, I see Mills as a Day 3 prospect who should’ve stayed in college for one more year. But NFL teams may value him a bit higher, by virtue of his physical upside. Even more influential is the general mediocrity at quarterback around the league. A lot of teams need quarterbacks, and that high demand may drive up the price of traits-heavy, developmental players like Mills. Tony Pauline pegs in place, Mills as a Round 3 prospect, and because of Davis Mills’ draft stock, that billing holds some weight.
Even if Mills does get drafted that high, sitting for a year or two might be an optimal situation. Teams with less urgent needs or veterans in place, like the Atlanta Falcons, Las Vegas Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Detroit Lions might be the best places for Mills. For now, it’s tough to see him ascending into a starting role if he can’t refine his mental processes. But that’s what NFL coaching is for. If Mills can couple his talent with that development, he could be a surprise.