GAC alum Davis Mills, the ‘overlooked’ QB in this year’s draft class

Davis Mills was a heralded five-star passer just four years ago. Ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in the nation, Mills seemed destined for a bright future as the face of Stanford football, where quarterback greats Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Andrew Luck once attended.

However, on Thursday, after a four-year period with only 11 starts, two severe knee injuries and a strange season limiting him to five games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mills was moving through Pro Day drills in Palo Alto, Calif., hoping to show scouts he still deserves to be spoken in the same breath with the other elite quarterbacks in this year’s NFL draft class.

Whereas Mills was the top quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class, his counterparts in 2018 -- Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields -- are considered top-five picks. In 2017, Mills finished the recruiting cycle ranked ahead of Alabama’s Mac Jones, who has seen his stock rise to the first round. BYU’s Zach Wilson, a potential top-five selection, was a three-star prospect in high school. North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Florida’s Kyle Trask, candidates to go in the first round, were ranked as two-star quarterbacks.

Recruiting rankings, by no means, correlate to draft selection. But Mills, who draft analysts peg as a mid-round pick, is looking to prove he’s still the same player college coaches and recruiting evaluators considered to be the best in his class.

“I think I can compete with those top guys,” Mills said. “I have full confidence in my ability to go out there and win games and compete at the next level. Something I bring to the table is really just the mental side of football. Getting prepared each and every week and attacking the weaknesses in the opponents and really having a high level of understanding of defenses and even running my own offense.”

Mills performed well in less than ideal conditions at Stanford’s Pro Day. He showed off his athletic ability in the 40-yard dash by clocking an unofficial 4.58 seconds. He delivered an abundance of throws without any issue, despite windy and wet conditions. Stanford coach David Shaw noted that Mills was “throwing 45-to-55-yard balls that cut” through elements.

Tim Hardy, Mills’ high school coach at Greater Atlanta Christian, tuned in to watch Mills’ Pro Day and came away excited with what he saw. Looking back at the years he coached Mills, he recalled a quarterback who possessed every type of throw in his arsenal. With only 11 starts in 14 games, NFL evaluators don’t have a whole lot of tape at their disposal.

But the more they watch and the longer they study, Hardy believes they will begin coveting Mills as a prospect.

“He really does have the ability to shape throws that are so special,” Hardy said. “He has the 15-yard intermediate route where you have to somehow drop that thing -- get it 10 feet in the air and then drop it in the hole right over the corner -- and you’re like, ‘Is this on a remote control?’ It really is impressive to do that. And when he needs the fastball to drive it in the deep dig, he’s got it. It’s there.

“He really plays within himself. Physically he plays within himself. Mentally he plays within himself. His ability to see and anticipate with his mind really sets him up with success.”

Hardy said the first time he realized Mills could be a special quarterback was as a sophomore against Eagle’s Landing. The entire offense was flat this particular night, with the Spartans trailing late in the fourth quarter. Mills, however, led the offense down the field on an 80-yard drive, capping it with a 19-yard touchdown throw to receiver Darius Slayton, who now is with the New York Giants.

Moments like that are what Hardy highlights to NFL programs when they contact him about his former quarterback. Hardy said a number of NFL teams have reached out, seeking information on Mills’ background and intangible qualities.

Those are “easy conversations” for Hardy.

“He certainly has the ability to rally the troops,” Hardy said. “He exudes confidence in a really controlled way -- not in an arrogant or cocky way but in a genuine way. Some people are drawn to that. They are drawn to his calm and his focus. It makes him easy to follow as a teammate and easy to coach.”

NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Mills pegged as a mid-round pick, but believes he’s one of the more intriguing quarterbacks in the draft. While the body of work at the college level may not be there, Mills possesses many of the qualities NFL teams look for in the position.

He can sit comfortably in the pocket and make quick decisions. He can extend plays when needed. He can read defenses and predict openings before the ball is snapped.

“He’s had a couple ACL (injuries), but this was the No. 1 quarterback in the country coming out of high school,” Jeremiah said. “He can really drive the ball. He’s not as athletic as maybe he would have been without the injuries, but he’s got poise. He’s obviously at Stanford -- he’s incredibly intelligent, and I thought you saw him get better throughout the year. He’d be one I’d kind of keep an eye on in the mid-rounds, third round, fourth round, somewhere in there.”

In five games in 2020, Mills completed 66.2% of his throws for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He missed Stanford’s season opener because of a COVID-19 test that brought back a false positive. It’s been an unlikely journey for a quarterback who came to Stanford with lofty expectations.

Still, Stanford receiver Simi Fehoko, Mills’ top option in 2020, said his quarterback deserves more attention than he’s received during the pre-draft process.

“He’s definitely being overlooked, and I think he’s very underrated,” Fehoko said. “That man has freak talent, and you can see it. Obviously, playing however many games he ended up playing, people tend to overlook. But I’m telling you, whoever takes him is going to get a good one.”

Mills has stayed busy since declaring for the draft, training at the QB Country complex in Mobile, Alabama. He’s interviewed with numerous NFL teams virtually, showing his smarts by drawing up plays on a whiteboard app that those interviewing him can also see on their shared screen. The Falcons, along with every NFL team, sent a representative to Stanford’s Pro Day.

Overcoming two major injuries and enduring a shortened season because of the COVID-19 pandemic have certainly affected how he’s been viewed as a draft prospect. But the former No. 1 quarterback recruit believes the resiliency he’s displayed over the past four years should make him attractive addition, wherever it is that he’s selected.

“Overcoming that adversity, it just taught me the life lesson of really just putting your head down,” Mills said. “The harder you work and take time to develop things and get better over time, the more the results will come down the road.”

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