Drafting Davis Mills raises questions about Texans' QB room, Deshaun Watson

Davis Mills, the 67th overall pick in the draft, started just 11 games at Stanford. Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON -- It seemed unlikely the Houston Texans would end the 2021 draft with more quarterback uncertainty than they entered with.

But here we are. After drafting Stanford's Davis Mills in the third round, the Texans have invited questions about the status of the quarterback position in 2021 and moving forward. Not only did Houston pick Mills, but it did so with its first pick of the draft, albeit a third-rounder.

Here’s a look at some of the questions that surround the Texans’ quarterback room:

Who is Mills?

Mills started 11 games at Stanford, throwing 18 touchdowns over two seasons. He was a highly touted recruit out of high school who dealt with knee injuries and wasn’t healthy enough to compete to be Stanford’s starter until his third season.

When general manager Nick Caserio was asked what he liked about Mills, he said the quarterback “played in a good offensive system, played for a good coach, has pretty good size, [was] fairly accurate with the ball, smart [and] makes fairly good decisions.”

Mills said he didn’t spend a lot of time talking to the Texans during the pre-draft process, so he was “surprised by the call” last Friday night.

Does this mean the Texans think Deshaun Watson won’t play for them again?

The pick certainly indicates the Texans know nothing has really changed, in terms of Watson wanting to be traded since he first made the demand in January. The 22 lawsuits filed against Watson alleging inappropriate behavior and sexual assault remain unresolved and the Texans have said they’re waiting for the NFL to conclude their investigation before they comment again on the situation.

Without knowing how the legal situation will be resolved, there are so many unknowns, including whether NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will suspend Watson for all or part of the 2021 season. If the legal process is still playing out when training camp or the season starts, Goodell could instead put Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list, which would prevent him from playing. Watson would still be paid by the Texans while on the list.

Even if Watson is not suspended, he might choose to sit out the season rather than play for Houston again.

If the Texans do decide to trade Watson -- remember, Caserio said multiple times before the first lawsuit was filed the team had no interest in trading the quarterback -- it’s in Houston’s best interest to wait until after the season when draft slots are locked in and the Texans can get maximum value.

Why did the Texans draft Mills if they signed Tyrod Taylor?

Ultimately, Caserio and the Texans took a shot on a quarterback they liked, in the hopes it will work out with Mills. Given the possibility Watson never plays for the Texans again, the best-case scenario is Mills develops into a starting quarterback over the next year or two. He will be given time to do so with Taylor poised to begin the regular season as Houston’s starting quarterback.

Of course, despite the hope Mills eventually develops into the starter, his draft position would indicate it’s less likely he is Houston’s post-Watson answer.

In the past five drafts, 40 quarterbacks have been selected in the third round or later, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Of those 40 quarterbacks, only the Cowboys' Dak Prescott has made the Pro Bowl and no such quarterback has been named All-Pro. The only quarterbacks among those 40 to start a playoff game since 2016 are Prescott (three) and Connor Cook (one), who started in a loss against the Texans in 2016 because Derek Carr broke his leg and backup Matt McGloin also got hurt.

Caserio said he and his staff thought about other positions with the 67th pick, but ultimately trusted their research on Mills.

“[He] has some of the attributes that a quarterback that we like and possess and played well with his opportunities when he was on the field, so it was a situation where we like the player, we spent time with him before the draft, did our research, did our homework,” Caserio said.

What does it mean for Taylor?

Taylor will go into training camp as the Texans’ starter, even if Caserio and coach David Culley decide to make it a legitimate competition. When the Texans drafted Mills, Caserio said the move “doesn’t impact anybody.”

Although Taylor signed in Houston knowing the uncertainty around the position and he wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot, he’s had experience in a similar situations. Twice -- once in Cleveland and once in Los Angeles -- Taylor began the season as the starter before eventually losing the job to a rookie.

In 2018 with the Browns, Taylor left a Week 3 game with a concussion, was replaced by No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield and never got his job back. Last season with the Chargers, Taylor played one game before a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung before the Week 2 kickoff while trying to administer a pain-killing injection to his cracked rib. Rookie Justin Herbert started the game and the rest of the season.

Taylor is signed to a one-year deal, though, so he is nothing more than a stopgap for the Texans. Assuming Watson never plays again for Houston, whether Mills or another future draft pick is the answer remains to be seen.

Who starts Week 1 for the Texans?

Unless something drastically changes, it seems unlikely it will be Watson. Taylor will likely be the Week 1 starter, but the real question is how deep into the season he plays.

While Caserio has created a lot of turnover on this roster, signing 28 free agents -- the most in the NFL -- and making several trades, the roster has not dramatically improved after four wins in 2020.

Unless Taylor has the Texans in the playoff hunt, Mills will likely see the field at some point to gauge his potential to be their franchise quarterback in the future. Houston doesn’t look poised to compete in 2021 and is likely to have a high enough draft pick to pick a top QB prospect next year.

After the Texans drafted Mills, Caserio was asked whether he thought Mills was a future franchise quarterback. Caserio avoided the question, declining to say yes or no. Instead, he said he and the front office are trying to add players to “create a culture of competition, selflessness and toughness.”