Despite re-signing Cam Newton on a one-year deal and having Jarrett Stidham under contract for two more seasons, the New England Patriots are undoubtably in the market for a quarterback in this year’s draft. The question is if they would be willing to trade up to get one of the top-tier guys, or if they would risk losing out on them by staying put at No. 15 in the first round.
If, for one reason or another, the Patriots come out of the first round without a QB selected, the second and third tier of passers come into focus. Among them is Stanford’s Davis Mills, a former five-star recruit who could hear his name called as early as the third round later this month — and who appears to be a target for New England as well.
Name: Davis Mills
School: Stanford (Senior)
Opening day age: 22
2020 stats: 129-for-195 (66.2%), 1,508 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; 30 carries, 37 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
Size: 6036, 217 lbs, 77 3/4” wingspan, 31 3/8” arm, 9 1/2” hand
Workout numbers: 4.81 40-yard dash, 32 vertical jump, 9’2” broad jump, 4.40 short shuttle, 6.95 3-cone drill
Expected round: 3rd-4th
Patriots pre-draft meeting: N/A
Strengths: Mills does not only bring ideal size to the equation, he also has NFL-caliber arm strength as well as the ball placement skills to succeed at the next level. He has shown that he can make anticipatory throws, and also that he is able to go through his progressions and make sound if at time inconsistent decisions with the football in his hands. Mills throws accurate passes at all levels of the field, and is particularly successful in the middle of the field.
From a technical perspective, Mills offers a solid foundation to work with. The football comes out fluently of his hands and he throws a catchable spiral that dose not lose velocity the further the ball travels. He also has a good and steady base and hardly wastes any steps in his dropbacks when allowed to stand in the pocket. While not the most nimble athlete, Stanford’s coaches have shown they trust him on roll-out plays or RPO concepts.
On top of it all, Mills also posted some good numbers after taking over for K.J. Costello in 2019 and established himself as a leader on the team. In 2020, the senior QB was voted a captain.
Weaknesses: Mills can throw every pass in the book and make smart decisions with the ball in his hands, but stringing all of that together on a consistent basis was a problem for him. Long story short, Mills has to become more consistent. This goes from making smart decisions — he had multiple interceptions dropped in 2020 — to being more steady with his technique when facing pressure or being forced to throw off his platform. He is not athletic enough to simply turn nothing into something and needs to be on-point with his mechanics.
The 22-year-old also lacks experience. As a result of injuries — more on those in a second — and his spot on the depth chart, he appeared in only 14 games with 11 starts over the course of his college career at Stanford. When he was on the field, he played extensively out of shotgun or pistol looks and needs to show that he can work under center as well.
Mills also brings his fair share of injury issues to the table. He suffered an ACL tear in his left knee ahead of his senior season in high school and had to undergo surgery, later hurting his knee again during the state title game. Mills had to take a redshirt season upon arriving in Stanford and later suffered another setback that forced him to sit out spring practices in 2018 as well. Medical evaluations will be crucial for him.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots need a long-term solution at quarterback but might not be willing to invest considerable future resources to move up in the first round to get one of the top-tier guys. Mills would be a solid second-tier option with some intriguing traits to work with. If New England’s scouts and coaches feel confident in their ability to build on his foundation and make him a more consistent and pro-ready player, he might be a target on Day 2 of the draft.
Why not the Patriots? The Patriots need a long-term solution at quarterback and after an aggressive free agency period might decide to address the issue in Round 1. If that happens, Mills being brought aboard in the third or fourth rounds would be a major surprise. Furthermore, his limited athletic skillset and major consistency swings as a starter might be too much for the team’s liking.
What would be his role in New England in 2021? With Cam Newton getting re-signed before the start of free agency, any quarterback brought aboard would be given time behind him and possibly Jarrett Stidham to learn the playbook and get ready to take over as the starter further down the stretch. Mills would therefore be projected to either serve as QB2 or QB3, depending on how Newton and especially Stidham perform over the summer.
What would be his role in New England beyond 2021? While the Patriots’ long-term outlook at quarterback would remain somewhat unclear even with Mills added to the mix, the youngster would ideally be in a position to compete for the starting role in 2022. At the very least, he should be able to establish himself as the primary backup.
Does he have positional versatility? The quarterback position is by itself not a necessarily versatile one, but some QBs still have a more nuanced skillset than others. While Mills does have some solid baseline athletic skills, he is no dual-threat passer and should not be expected to develop into one at the next level.
What is his special teams value? As is the case with every other quarterback, his special teams value is quasi non-existent. Mills could serve as an emergency holder on field goal and extra point tries, but that is about it.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? If drafted in his expected range, Mills would be a lock to make New England’s roster this year. And with no quarterback currently locked into a specific role, everything seems to be on the table. That said, the most realistic competition he will face is against Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala for the No. 2 role behind Cam Newton.
Verdict: If New England does not pick a quarterback in the first and early second round, Mills would be an intriguing tier-two option and, of sorts, a consolation prize as well. He certainly has his ups and downs and needs to become a lot more consistent to turn into a serviceable passer at the next level, but he has some tools to work with — tools the Patriots could try to develop behind the scenes and under Newton’s guidance during the 2021 season.