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The PRe-Draft Story
Davis Mills was the undercard among a 2021 draft class of marquee quarterback prospects because a significant part of draft capital for NFL decision-makers is multiple years of statistical and team success. While 4-2 at Stanford in 2020's COVID-shortened campaign, Stanford went 4-8 in 2019 and Mills only played in 8 of those contests.
With a total of 13 games played during his Stanford career, it's impressive that he earned a third-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft and that was on the merit of his film.
Most people don’t have jobs where they have to possess an insane combination of physical, mental, technical, and intuitive skills with a margin of error that can span less than three seconds. And those who do this job the best actually have the makeup to create a “fudge factor” that can extend that window another second.
As we see with these three plays from Davis Mills' time at Stanford, one second can make a huge difference. Although the first two plays are difficult scenarios, even for some pro passers, Mills has shown a fundamental understanding of how to read the leverage of the defender facing his intended target.
This sail route from Stanford QB Davis Mills reveals a good lesson about reading leverage and using what you see to your advantage as a passer.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) March 3, 2021
The best QBs--regardless of whether they whiteboard like a coach, process fast due to their understanding of leverage. pic.twitter.com/k5m1HnUAvJ
A quarterback usually has less than three seconds to make a decision and execute it.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) March 3, 2021
Only the best can create a fudge factor an extra second, at best, without using their legs to create another 2-3 second window.
This Davis Mills rep is a good example. pic.twitter.com/6UBzbsW612
When studying Mills' game in greater depth, the third-round grade makes sense because of the combination of his strengths and addressable weaknesses during a limited college career:
- Mills often read the field like a top prospect. Where he didn’t, it is clearly addressable.
- Mills had “annoying” accuracy that’s just shy of pinpoint when it came to specific types of throws that he’ll need to make in the NFL.
- There are specific targets that Mills may never develop accuracy with but that's far too definitive of a conclusion to draw with only 13 college starts
- Where Mills made consistently bad throws were situations where the game plan and coaching gave him the directives to read the field a certain way that led to bad results.
- Mills showed underrated pocket presence.
Mills also displayed mental and physical toughness to make difficult plays to bring a team back from deficits. If you want a deep dive, Mark Schofield and I join Scouting Academy Founder and former Giants and Eagles scout Dan Hatman for an hour-long conversation and film breakdown of Mills.
With Deshaun Watson dealing with multiple civil suits and 10 criminal complaints after he already demanded a trade from the Texans' organization, it was likely Mills would earn an audition sometime in 2021. Tyrod Taylor's severe hamstring injury fast-tracked Mills' timeline. Against Cleveland and Carolina, Mills had serviceable performances for a player who wasn't earning first-team reps at any point of his short career until Week 3 of the season — completing 27 of 46 passes and delivering 270 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception during the first game and a half.
From the box score's perspective, Buffalo exposed Mills as a callow passer not ready for prime time, forcing four interceptions and limiting Mills to an 11-for-21, 87-yard performance and what The Athletic noted as the single lowest QBR score in the NFL for the past three seasons. Of course, the box score explained little and the article referencing Davis' overall performance thus far — a summary paragraph of the results — doesn't give you any real idea of what Mills is about.
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