“I mean, everything — all past experiences are learning experiences,” Mills said in March. “So can’t go back and dwell on the what-ifs. I’m just focused on what’s ahead.”
What’s ahead for Mills, who said he spoke with the Detroit Lions early in the pre-draft process, is the chance to live out his dream as an NFL quarterback, even if it comes in a most circuitous way.
Mills was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country in 2017, ahead of Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in last year’s draft, and Mac Jones, a potential top-five pick this year.
Mills redshirted his first season at Stanford, when he suffered another knee injury, and played one game in 2018. He missed time in 2019 with a fourth leg injury, and was limited to five starts last fall in Stanford’s COVID-19-shortened season.
“I was at his state championship game where he initially got hurt,” Stanford coach David Shaw said in March. “And we didn’t expect him to come in and start as a freshman. As devastating as it was, we knew, ‘OK, we didn’t plan on playing him, so he’s going to redshirt, he’s going to rehab, he’s going to be great, we know he’s going to be great.’ And then the second injury was the one that was really hard. And I remember going up to Davis and saying, ‘Man, I feel so bad for you. I know you just worked really hard to get back healthy and now you’re going to be, surgery and rehab again.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I already been through it once, I’ll go through it again.’
“Just that calm, that comfort, that confidence like, ‘It’s OK, this is just another hurdle. I’ll be fine.’ And he was. And he came back full speed, back to being able to run and jump and cut and do all those things that impressed us initially. So the injuries were difficult, but it really showed who he was and kind of the resilience and confidence that he has.”
Mills, who declined to reveal the nature of his injuries at his March pro day, does not rank among the consensus top five quarterbacks in this year’s draft: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Jones.
But he is a fascinating prospect who should interest a quarterback-needy team on Day 2 of the draft, one willing to take the time to develop his prodigious talent.
Mills made just 11 starts and attempted 438 passes in his Stanford career, but showed tantalizing flashes, including in his final collegiate game, when he threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns, and led the Cardinal to an overtime win against UCLA by engineering two touchdown drives in the final three minutes.
Mills said NFL teams have not asked for “anything extra” from him during the pre-draft process because of his limited experience, and he drew genuinely positive reviews for his pro day workout in rainy conditions.
“A lot of stuff we’ve talked about is just classroom type stuff at the quarterback position,” he said. “A lot of ins and outs of our Stanford offense and then they’ll install plays for me for what they’re running in the NFL and there’s a lot of similarity and crossover because of the type of offense we run at Stanford. So I feel like I’m fully prepared for a lot of that stuff.”
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Shaw touted Mills’ athletic ability and acumen running an offense, and Mills said the leadership and toughness he showed while handling adversity have put him in a position to succeed in the NFL.
“It was a long path,” he said. “Started off at Stanford a little later than I wanted to but I mean, really just overcoming that adversity taught me the life lesson of really just putting your head down, and the harder you work and take time to develop things and get better, over time the more the results will come down the road.”