David Sills’ Smarts Could Make Him Perfect Receiver For Patriots


Mar 3, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS — David Sills can hold something over the heads of Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, and that’s not just because the 6-foot-3, 211-pound West Virginia wideout towers over the diminutive slot receivers.

Sills plays in the same offense Texas Tech ran with Welker, Amendola and Michael Crabtree. It’s the same offense Mike Evans played under at Texas A&M and Oklahoma State used with 2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon. Yet, Sills is the only wideout to play more than one position.

“Normally in our system, they play one,” former West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, how head coach of Texas State, told NESN.com over the phone. “You’re going to get really good at one position because we don’t have the time to work with continuity and the reps like you do in the NFL, because you only have (so many) hours with them in the offseason a week and 20 during the season. So, Sills was a guy that if we had people struggling, we could move that kid all around. And that just shows you what we thought of him, what (former West Virginia head coach) Dana Holgorsen thought of him, because we never allowed that to happen.”

The story of Sills is fairly well told. He was recruited to play quarterback at the University of Southern California before he even hit high school. He suffered a knuckle injury in high school, and after developing a hitch, his throwing motion was never quite the same. But his ability to read defenses still set him apart, so he wound up as a quarterback at West Virginia.

During his freshman season, former West Virginia wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway knew quarterback wasn’t where Sills was going to make his way onto the field.

“I would always mess around with him and be like, ‘Hey,’ because he’d catch balls and stuff after practice,” Galloway said. “I’d be like, ‘Man, you need to come over here and play with me.’ And he was like, ‘Nah, coach, I’m not going to do it.’ And I was like, ‘Hey, if you want to play — I’m not saying you can’t play quarterback — but you need to come over here and play some receiver for me.’ That went on for a while.”

In Week 2 of Sills’ freshman season, he started playing scout-team wide receiver. Holgorsen texted him four weeks later on the Thursday before West Virginia’s game against Oklahoma State and asked him to play receiver. Sills boldly turned his head coach down, because he didn’t want to burn his redshirt season. Fast forward one week, and Holgorsen was a bit more forceful. Sills acquiesced, and he caught two passes for 64 yards and a touchdown against Baylor and three catches for 42 yards against TCU. He had seven receptions for 131 yards with two scores overall as a freshman.

But he still was scratching that itch to play quarterback, and it wasn’t going to happen at West Virginia. So, he went off to El Camino College for a year, slept on the couch of high school teammate, and played quarterback. And with no substantial offers, Sills came back to his true calling, where he was “100-hundred percent in” on playing receiver, according to Spavital.

“That’s something that I give credit to the kid, because everybody is always very comfortable with where they’re at,” Spavital said. “He gets moved in (to receiver). … And then he’s like, ‘You know what? I want to play quarterback, and I want to put it to rest, so I want to do one more opportunity to go.’

“So, he left a full ride and a position that he’s already established himself as a starter to go and make himself uncomfortable and he’s sleeping on a couch out in LA. Most kids don’t have the balls to do that. He went out there, and I don’t know what exactly happened with his quarterback deal, but it put it to rest where he knew he wasn’t going to be a quarterback. So, he comes back, and he goes all in at receiver, which that’s the thing that I always appreciate about the kid is I know he’s going to be successful with whatever he does because he’s not afraid to fail, and he’s not afraid to chase his dream.”

It was an easy recruiting job for Holgorsen to get Sills back in Morgantown, W.V.

“We still have the running joke that I was his easiest recruit,” Sills said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He said, ‘You want to come back and play receiver?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely, just send the papers over. I don’t have to do an official. I don’t have to do any of that. Just send the papers over and I’ll be there on January 8 or whatever it was.'”

Sills returned to West Virginia and became quarterback Will Grier’s safety valve. They had a connection not unlike the one quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Julian Edelman share with the New England Patriots.

“Half of the time, they just look at each other and switch plays on their own by a look, especially in the red zone,” former West Virginia wide receivers coach Tyron Carrier told NESN.com. “Both of those guys knew exactly what each of them wanted by how a DB played against them.”

That was another exception Spavital made for Sills.

“Those two just had this communication where they just knew exactly what they were going to do, which I normally don’t let people do that,” Spavital said. “But the results kind of speak for themselves, because Sills and (Grier) had a ton of touchdowns inside the 10-yard line.”

It started with a hand-signal and turned into a look.

“When we got down by the goal line, Will actually let me give him the route that I wanted,” Sills said. “So, we really did a slant or a fade. But I would stick a finger behind my back and I would go either one or two. One was slant, two was fade. It almost got to the point where Will’s looking out there, and he’s just giving me an eye raise, and I’m like, ‘OK, I know what’s going on.'”

In some NFL offenses, like the Patriots’, reading a quarterback’s mind is half the battle. The Patriots have their wide receivers run routes dependent upon the opposing team’s coverages. If the defense is in man, you run one route. If it’s in zone, then you find a hole, sit down and wait for Brady’s throw. It would be tough to find a wide receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft class better at reading an opposing defense than Sills.

“It showed up,” Grier said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “There were certain things where he would come to me and tell me what coverage they ran, which isn’t normal. He just kind of understood the game. It was really cool to have a receiver that you could relate to on that kind of a level.”

“He was always the guy who would come to me and be like, ‘Hey, I’m stacking on top of this. I don’t have the same vision with the quarterback on this one as I had on the previous plays and stuff,'” Spavital recalled. “Or he’s going to come off to the sidelines and be like, ‘Listen, if I can run a post at the inside receiver, I can open up the outside receiver, because the safety’s keying in on me.’

“He’s got such a great feel for it, and he’s a selfless player. I think that when you’re a selfless player, that’s when you wind up having success. Just his overall awareness of the game helps him out tremendously. He knows the whole spacing, and he looks at it from the vantage point of the quarterback.”

In a vacuum, some teams might think Sills would have trouble picking up an NFL offense coming from an air-raid offense. That’s clearly not the case.

“I’ll be able to pick up the playbook and make sight adjustments based off the coverage and do it pretty well,” Sills said. “That’s one thing that I’m looking to prove when I get onto a team and into a camp.”

Sills only ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash. But he’s a good athlete with a high playing IQ, and he’s adept at making contested catches. He showed off his quickness with a 6.97-second 3-cone drill, some explosion with a 37.5-inch vertical leap, and he’ll be able to beat a defense just using his smarts.

“You look at him, and you’re like, he’s rangy,” Spavital said. “He’s got a large catch radius, because he’s a good 6-foot-4 kid. So, you sit there and you’re like, all right, does he have the speed? He’s a little skinny, so is he going to be able to get off press? And then you just watch how the kid works, and just how intelligent he is with the game where he can make himself get open.”

Sills is projected to be drafted in the third or fourth round. There’s an alternate universe out there where Sills doesn’t hurt his knuckle and he and Grier are jockeying for draft position. But Sills is at peace with the path he took to the NFL. And his past at quarterback makes him a unique prospect for NFL teams who run complex offenses.

Thumbnail photo via Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports Images
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