Most reasonable Houston Texan fans knew there would come a point during the 2021 season where rookie Davis Mills would start a football game (or maybe several football games), either because the Texans were losing many, many. games or because regular starter Tyrod Taylor sustained an injury. It turned out that it was the latter, and the injury came early, with Taylor hurting his hamstring in week 2.
So it happened that Mills made his first career start against the Carolina Panthers, and his fearsome passing run, in a 24-9 loss last Thursday night. Every time the offense only generates nine points, it is by definition an unsatisfactory performance by the starting quarterback. However, if we are rating Mills on a separate scale, with the question “Can he be the starting quarterback for this team in future seasons?” then Mills did enough to at least make me want to see more.
For what it’s worth, Mills didn’t get much help from his team’s running game (17 carries, a measly 42 yards), nor did he get much help from caller Tim Kelly, who was super conservative. In hindsight, even head coach David Culley would admit they were probably TOO conservative:
David Culley on Davis Mills: “I think what we ended up doing is, is, is we got to the point where … we went too far trying to protect him … he can handle a lot more than how we feel, for the the way he handled himself in this ball game. ” pic.twitter.com/2TMhsDrcjs
– Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) September 24, 2021
If there’s one thing I admire about David Culley early in his tenure as head coach, it’s his honesty and ability to admit mistakes. The coaching staff absolutely handled Mills too conservatively in his starting debut. The only times he was actually allowed to let it rip was in situations that called for riskier plays: late in the half, and when the Texans first trailed by two touchdowns. Both times, Mills generated points.
As for Mills’ overall performance compared to other rookie Texans quarterbacks in his early starts, he holds up very favorably. In team history, five rookies have started and the team is 3-2 in those games, despite averaging just 12 points of offense in the five games. Here are the individual performances of those five quarterbacks in those debut starts:
DAVID CARR, 2002, Week 1 vs Dallas (W, 19-10)
STATS: 10-22, 145 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 78.8 rtg
DAVE RAGONE, 2003, Week 14 in Jacksonville (L, 27-0)
STATS: 11-23, 71 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 36.7 rtg, 5-51 rushing
TJ YATES, 2011, Week 13 vs Atlanta (W, 17-10)
STATS: 12-25, 188 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 86.7 rtg
DESHAUN WATSON, 2017, Week 2 in Cincinnati (W, 13-9)
STATS: 15-24, 125 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 75.9 rtg, 5-67 on the ground, 1 TD
DAVIS MILLS, 2021, Week 3 vs Carolina (L, 24-9)
STATS: 19-28, 168 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 95.5 rtg
While Mills was in fact the captain of one of the two defeats of a rookie quarterback for the Texans in a starting role, he had the highest passer rating of the five signals, and by a fairly substantial margin. It also had the highest completion percentage of this group. I would also point out, in support of Mills, that his performance on Thursday night lines up more than adequately compared to his fellow rookies in the league:
It’s NOT me saying Davis Mills will be Rookie of the Year, just a prospect from last night:
DAVIS MILLS QBR (ESPN version) last night: 57.5
That would rank 17th among starting quarterbacks. Other rookie headlines:
MAC JONES 53.5
TREVOR LAWRENCE 24.5
ZACH WILSON 23.2
– Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) September 24, 2021
Overall, Mills did enough to intrigue me for the next two games, at least. Some would see it as a disgrace that Mills has to face the Bills and Patriots, and their fearsome defenses, but why not have complete clarity on where Mills is against the best of the best? He doesn’t give me the impression of someone who will be ruined or flustered by poor performance against elite competition.