The Patriots have an affinity with highly-touted High School recruits while building their team.
New England’s current quarterback project, Jarrett Stidham, was the second-ranked player at his position, only behind eventual number one overall pick Kyler Murray in 2015.
The Pats also grabbed former five-star prospect Byron Cowart in the fifth-round of the 2019 draft and recently signed former five-star Montravius Adams in free agency this offseason.
Although High School recruiting is hit or miss, Bill Belichick often sees untapped potential, and this year’s quarterback class happens to have another top recruit in Stanford’s Davis Mills.
According to Rivals.com, Mills was the highest-rated quarterback in the class of 2017 and the tenth-ranked prospect overall, but he battled for playing time early on at Stanford.
After starter K.J. Costello’s injury in 2019, Mills took over as the starter for the Cardinal, but due to the COVID-shortened season, he managed only 11 career starts in college.
Mills could’ve remained in college for one more season after redshirting as a freshman to sharpen his decision-making and gain more experience but opted to declare for the NFL Draft.
Mills’s inexperience manifested itself numerous times to the tune of 17 turnover-worthy plays, but he possesses some intriguing qualities for a team willing to develop him as a pocket passer.
At 6-foot-4, 217 pounds, Mills has prototypical size and arm talent for a pocket passer with above-average accuracy (CPOE – +4.5). He also throws from a sturdy base with crisp footwork and mechanics, giving him a clean throwing motion from both shotgun and under center.
For the Patriots, Mills flashed the ability to attack between the numbers, throwing with the proper touch and timing to beat middle-of-the-field coverage.
Here, the offense stresses a quarters coverage by running four vertical routes upfield. Mills recognizes that the receiver to his left is leveraging the deep safety while the underneath linebacker is sucked up by the running back releasing out of the backfield. With the middle of the field open, he rips the seam route for a chunk gain.
Mills also made timely throws up the seam after reading the safety rotation. This time, Mills recognizes the post-safety working over the top of the vertical route to his left and comes back to his “rhythm” throw on a stick-nod route on the backside when the safety vacates the middle. Again, he nicely throws over the underneath linebackers and hits his receiver up the shoot.
In this play, Mills makes a nice anticipatory throw under pressure to an in-breaking route. The offense is in a trips formation to the quarterback’s left and runs a “dagger” concept where the two inside receivers clear out the coverage with vertical routes. Knowing the verticals are clearing out the coverage, Mills pulls the trigger on the dig route before the outside receiver breaks while taking a hit in the pocket.
Here’s another anticipatory throw between the numbers with the pocket collapsing. Mills recognizes his tight end working against the linebacker with inside leverage. Quarterback and receiver both see the linebacker sitting on the tight end’s inside hip, and Mills makes a leverage throw away from the defender as his tight end comes out of his break. The pass is a little behind, but Mills feels heat from an interior stunt and gets the job done.
Along with attacking the middle of the field, Mills made some excellent touch throws to his outside receivers. When the defense gave him one-on-one on the perimeter, Mills dropped it in the bucket or threw receivers open on back-shoulders.
Following a review of his high-end plays, Mills makes a compelling case as a day two pick.
However, as we mentioned earlier, his inexperience shows throughout his film when it comes to decision-making and deciphering post-snap movement by the defense (and blitzes).
In this example, the UCLA defense executes a “trap” coverage to force a pick-six. Mills’s pre-snap read tells him that he has off-coverage on the outside to his left. However, the defense brings a blitz, and the deep safety comes down into a shallow zone to form an inverted cover-two structure. Mills never sees the rotation, and when the boundary corner rotates down into the flat, he throws it directly to the outside corner, who returns it to the house.
The UCLA defense baits Mills into another interception here when the deep safety on the left hash vacates the seam, and Mills thinks he has his slot receiver winning a foot race with a dropping linebacker. Unfortunately for Mills, the outside corner reads his eyes the entire way and jumps the seam route for another interception on the telegraphed pass.
Along with a high number of turnover-worthy plays, Mills lost his poise at times against the blitz. Above, the defense brings a zero blitz leaving the deep safety to rotate down to take #3 inside to Mills’s right. Instead of calmly throwing at the blitz to hit an open #3, Mills panics in the pocket and ends up throwing the ball away.
There are also concerns with Mills’s lack of mobility and ability to create on second-reaction plays when the scheme doesn’t do the work for him; although he can move around the pocket a bit, Mills is a true pocket-passer with limited athleticism.
Every draft season, players like Mills have the look of an NFL quarterback without the consistency that makes certain prospects first-round talents.
On the surface, Mills is a sturdy pocket-passer that throws the ball well and looked comfortable running Stanford’s pro-style system, which makes him potentially intriguing to the Patriots.
However, I wouldn’t use a top 50 pick on Mills and see him more as a project in the same vein as Jarrett Stidham, which spells more of the same for New England.
After the Jets traded former quarterback Sam Darnold to the Panthers, presumably taking Carolina out of the quarterback sweepstakes, the Patriots should think bigger than Mills.
If the Patriots want to solidify their future at quarterback, Mills is too much of a developmental prospect to label him as the answer.