Davis Mills: The Dark Horse QB of the 2021 Draft Class?
The 2017 college recruiting class contained some familiar faces. Recently drafted first rounder Tua Tagovailoa, former Georgia signal caller Jake Fromm and current Texas QB Sam Ehlinger were just a few of the members. However, it was Stanford commit Davis Mills that headed the group as a consensus five star recruit.
Stanford career so far...
Mills redshirted behind Keller Chryst and KJ Costello in his first year. The next year included some knee injury problems and meant Mills’ role continued to be as deputy to Costello. He finally got his chance at starter when Costello suffered his own injury issues in 2019. Mills accounted for 1.960 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games. With Costello becoming a graduate transfer to Mississippi State this offseason Mills will finally get his chance as the undisputed leader of the Cardinal offense.
In a recent podcast, College Football expert Bruce Feldman highlighted the fact that NFL sources had told him that Mills was an intriguing prospect for the next level. With all the physical tools, Mills has a real opportunity to boost his draft stock this season. Does he have what it takes to threaten the early rounds? Let’s take a look at where his game is at the moment.
What Mills does well...
When you first turn on the tape of Davis Mills you immediately see how quickly he gets himself into a passing rhythm. Quick hitters, slants and intermediate throws are made with ease. Perhaps the most striking aspect is his velocity and ball placement. Mills can fit the ball into tight windows, and on short to mid-range passes he hits receivers exactly where they need the ball.
In the throw below, Mills knows the receiver has inside leverage but his outbreaking route turns the defender. Mills makes the throw away from the defender using his anticipation and velocity to hit the first down with ease.
You’ll also see Mills display toughness in the pocket. His strong, physical frame means he has no fear in taking a hit. As displayed in this throw, Mills sits tight knowing his receiver will give him a chance to make the play. Despite a free rusher right in his face, Mills throws the ball up to his receiver for the score.
Although Mills’ stature means he will be seen predominantly as a pocket passer, he displays enough athleticism in the pocket. He can navigate himself out of danger as seen below. As well as being able to run to safety Mills can also reset his throwing platform when he breaks the pocket.
Where improvement is needed
As with plenty of college quarterbacks there remains question marks about Mills’ ability to make big plays downfield. His lack of first team reps mean that his ability to read defenses could do with some polishing. Too often you see him make throws into tight or double coverage, something that will sting him at the next level.
Mills can be seen struggling with throws that require extra nuance. While he excels hitting targets in tight spots, deep throws that require touch are more of a struggle. In the following throw vs Cal his receiver Simi Fehoko gets the beating of Cam Bynum but Mills can’t complete the throw for a sure TD.
While the Stanford QB has the ability to escape pressure, making throws on the run is another area that needs work. Once Mills is out of the pocket he struggles to make plays without having a solid platform. In the below clip, Mills senses the pressure and bails to the right. He has the open receiver on the sideline but the throw he uncorks is inaccurate, giving the defensive backs the chance to make a play.
The supporting cast in 2020
So what can we expect from Mills and the Stanford Cardinal in 2020? The shortened offseason won’t help anybody but for players like Mills, facing his first full season as starter, it may have even more of a detrimental effect.
In terms of the supporting cast, Mills has plenty of talent around him. Walker Little headlines the offensive line. Despite injury concerns, a healthy Little at left tackle will give Mills a degree of comfort, knowing his blindside is well protected. Elsewhere across the group, Stanford returns 82% of the snaps from 2019’s offensive line. Experience that will be much needed.
The Cardinal has been historically strong at the running position with the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love. Heading the depth chart in 2020 will be Austin Jones. Having contributed 227 yards last season, having him as the lead back brings plenty of question marks. As a four star recruit, he has the pedigree to take a lot of pressure of Mills’ shoulders.
Stanford lost two big bodied receivers in the shape of JJ Arcega-Whiteside and tight end Colby Parkinson this offseason. That will undoubtedly have an effect on Mills but he has some interesting receiving pieces. Michael Wilson stands out on the 2019 tape, a physically strong receiver while Simi Fehoko is a 6’4 junior primed to breakout and potentially be the no.1 target.
It’s clear that Davis Mills carries some of the hallmarks of a next level talent. He has sufficient arm talent to make the throws needed and the physical tools that are so valued by NFL talent evaluators.
What will likely cause Mills the biggest issue is a lack of experience and the mental aspect of the game. Can he expedite his development enough to bring himself into the QB equation in the 2021 draft or could we see him return for a final year in an attempt to boost his stock further? Time will tell.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.