So it came to pass that Mills made his first career start against the Carolina Panthers, and their fearsome pass rush, in a 24-9 loss this past Thursday night. Anytime the offense only generates nine points, it is by definition a subpar performance by the starting quarterback. However, if we are grading Mills on a separate scale, with the question being "Can he be this team's starting quarterback 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 rushes, a paltry 42 yards), nor did he get much help from play caller Tim Kelly, who was super conservative. In retrospect, even head coach David Culley would admit they were probably TOO conservative:
If there is one thing I admire about David Culley early on in his head coaching tenure, it's his honesty and ability to admit mistakes. The coaching staff absolutely handled Mills too conservatively in his starting debut. The only times they really allowed him to let it rip was in situations that demanded more risky play calling — end of half, and when the Texans first trailed by two scores. Both times, Mills generated points.
David Culley on Davis Mills: "I think what we end up doing is, is, is that we got to the point to where that we ... went too far with trying to protect him ... he can handle a lot more than what we felt like, because of the way that he handled himself in this ballgame." pic.twitter.com/2TMhsDrcjs— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) September 24, 2021
As for the overall performance of Mills compared to other Texans rookie quarterbacks in their first starts, he holds up very favorably. In the team's history, five rookies have started games, and the team has a record of 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 at Jacksonville (L, 27-0)
STATS: 11-23, 71 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 36.7 rtg, 5-51 rushing
T.J. 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 at Cincinnati (W, 13-9)
STATS: 15-24, 125 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 75.9 rtg, 5-67 rushing, 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 indeed the skipper for one of the two losses for a Texans rookie QB in a starting role, he did have the highest passer rating of the five signal callers, and by a fairly substantial margin. He 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 in comparison to his rookie peers around the league:
Overall, Mills did enough for me to intrigue me for the next couple of games, at least. Some would see it as a bit of misfortune that Mills has to face the Bills and the Patriots, and their fearsome defenses, but why not get full clarity on where Mills is against the best of the best? He doesn't strike me as someone who is going to get ruined or rattled by poor performance against elite competition.
This is NOT me saying Davis Mills is going to Rookie of the Year, but just some perspective on last night:— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) September 24, 2021
DAVIS MILLS QBR (ESPN version) last night: 57.5
That would rank 17th among starting QBs. Other rookie starters:
MAC JONES 53.5
TREVOR LAWRENCE 24.5
ZACH WILSON 23.2
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.