2021 NFL draft prospects: Stanford QB Davis Mills

Eric Edholm
·5-min read
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Stanford QB Davis Mills

6-foot-4, 225 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.80 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Developmental passer who once was an elite recruit, displaying some intriguing upside in his 11 college starts

Games watched: USC (2019), Cal (2019), Washington (2020), Oregon State (2020), UCLA (2020)

The skinny: A 5-star Rivals recruit — the top QB in the 2017 class, ahead of Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones, and No. 10 nationally — Mills went with the Cardinal and stuck around despite not seeing the field much early on. Davis redshirted in 2017 and then saw action in only one game in 2018, going 0-for-2 passing with a 5-yard run vs. UC-Davis.

In 2019, Mills lost the starting job to K.J. Costello. But Mills quickly was thrown into the mix when Costello got hurt, eventually playing eight games (starting six) and completing 158 of 241 passes (65.6 percent) for 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Upside: Fundamentally clean passer — mechanics look eerily similar to Andrew Luck at times. Nice, balanced dropbacks. Great posture. Keeps feet and hips squared up. Quick, fluid throwing motion. Very little that needs to be retooled significantly in his setup or delivery.

Will look like an NFL starter in 7-on-7 work. Short passing game wizard who can dart throws quickly and on target. Fast decision making — processes standard reads well and lets it fly. Often seen throwing with trust, as receivers are getting into their breaks — little hesitation in his delivery. Knows how to leverage man-coverage defenders and dice up zones underneath. Had a lot thrown on his plate in a voluminous system and handled it pretty deftly.

Good size and build. Enough movement skills within the pocket to create time and opportunities. Able athlete to pick up tough yards as an occasional scrambler. Nice arm talent and touch to attack most parts of the field. Uses his lower body well to aid throws from clean pockets. Throws mostly pretty, clean passes. Can manipulate arm angles amid pressure and muddied pockets.

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Much better on deep touch and accuracy in 2020 than in 2019. Showed improved eye manipulation, better timing and ball placement — stopped underthrowing those routes as often.

Suffered from a lot of receiver drops the past two seasons, including a whopping 16 drops in 2020, per PFF — 11 percent of his pass attempts were counted as drops. Only eight interceptions in 442 pass attempts. Had 504-yard and 428-yard passing games on the road.

More than half his starts in 2019 came with a Cardinal roster ravaged by injury, especially on the offensive line. Rarely had much support from the run game in his time in school.

Tough — gutted his way through a leg injury in a big upset over Washington in 2019, completing 21 of 30 passes (70.0 percent) for 293 yards and a TD and scrambling three times for 26 yards. In the 2020 game against the Huskies, Mills made a TD-saving tackle after a fourth-quarter fumble in a one-score game to help preserve the win.

Operated in a pro-style system with heavy under-center usage. Prototypical pocket-passer approach. Ascending talent who could be the QB surprise in this class down the road.

Downside: Inexperienced — only 11 college starts and 820 total game reps over parts of three seasons. Turns 23 years old in October and might not get an NFL starting shot for at least a year. Missed big test against Oregon because of COVID contact tracing.

Guilty of some really shaky decisions at times — that inexperience can show. Will hang his receivers out to dry — prone to floating a hospital ball or two that gets his man clobbered. Sideline/red-zone accuracy can be shaky — doesn’t always give his man a chance to come down with it. Tosses up a few prayer balls in traffic.

Injury history must be vetted — suffered multiple knee injuries late in his high-school career, which lingered into his Stanford career, plus a leg injury that cut into his 2019 campaign. Medical evaluation could have a huge effect on his draft grades.

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 27: Davis Mills #15 of the Stanford Cardinal warms up prior to the start of their NCAA football game against the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on November 27, 2020 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
In a mere 11 college starts, Stanford QB Davis Mills showed some intriguing potential. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Might never be a great deep-ball thrower. Wasn’t asked to do it much past two seasons. Showed improvement in this area but lacks ideal touch and arm strength to consistently drive the ball vertically. Gives cursory look-off to safeties — needs to sell those better.

Still learning how best to handle pressure. Pressure can bring out some of his best throws, but it’s inconsistent — locks in on his hot reads and has trouble getting to second read. Can get sloppy at times (seven career fumbles), especially when the heat is on. Needs more time facing complex blitz packages. Must show he can climb the pocket more consistently.

Best-suited destination: Mills needs time to develop and shouldn’t figure prominently in a team’s 2021 plans in a perfect world. But the talented passer could be a down-the-road replacement for an aging QB, ideally with a team that employs heavy play action, timing and rhythm in the passing game, such as the Titans, Falcons, Saints or Vikings.

Did you know: There have been some fine athletes in Mills’ family, mostly in other sports. His grandfather played minor-league baseball in the New York Mets’ minor-league system, and his two older sisters both played college tennis. Erin Mills played tennis at Tusculum, and Ali played at South Carolina.

Player comp: This is a tricky one. As we said above, there are times when you watch Mills throw, and it brings you back to Luck’s passing mechanics when he was back on The Farm. But Mills doesn’t possess Luck’s higher-end arm talent and athleticism. Instead, we see some similarities in Mills to how Jared Goff operates. If Mills can be groomed properly and remains healthy, that might be his ceiling.

Expected draft range: Rounds 3 to 4