It's pretty easy to forget that West Virginia WR David Sills V is still really new to this whole "wide receiver" thing. Sills, who first enrolled with the Mountaineers in 2015 as a quarterback, has found college stardom in his second run with the team at a new position.
How good is life at receiver for Sills? The man has 23 touchdown receptions in 15 games between 2017 and 2018. That level of production understandably beings to bring expectation and hype. A good deal of that hype is warranted for Sills, who is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and looks good in space.
But when considering Sills' status as a player competing at a new position, there's ample room for improvement. Is his nose for the end zone amplified by Coach Dana Holgerson's offense? What does the quality of defensive play in the Big 12 do for his game? These are the questions NFL teams will be asking as they begin to assess Sills' play.
But fear not! I come bearing gifts. Sills is off to a good start through West Virginia's first three games this season. In performances against Tennessee, Youngstown State and Kansas State, Sills has shown some flashes of the little things in his game. That added cerebral/technical development has the potential to elevate Sills from a "intriguing prospect" to a "promising, high ceiling player".
Understanding Of Space And How To Use It
Any time a "raw" player excels at the game, it's exciting because coaches and scouts will automatically shift gears to a single thought:
"Imagine how good he can be when he learns the ins and outs of the position!"
It's a valid place to go and it's equally applicable to David Sills. But his reps through the first quarter of this season has offered some glimpses that he's understanding the position at a deeper level. Take this play against Tennessee in the season opener as an example:
Facing a corner blitz, Sills illustrates several key pieces of mental processing. For starters, is he supposed to pull up in the flat and make himself available quickly for QB Will Grier?
No, as the Mountaineers have accounted for the blitz with the running back in pass protection. Assuming the back steps across to impede the rush, there will be time to replace the ball vertically.
Second, where is the defender responsible for coverage? He's squatting inside, approximately 8 yards off the ball. Can you see how Sills' first three steps out of his release are angled inwards? He's attacking this defensive back head up, preventing an early squeeze of his vertical route.
Pressing inside also offers a larger throwing window for QB Will Grier to throw over his outside shoulder if it's needed. In this specific case, it isn't. 25 is too flat footed too late and doesn't have the explosiveness to get back into Sills' hip pocket and contest.
Process > Results in scouting. The touchdown is great. But David Sills showing he's understanding what the defense is doing? Knowing where his offense is structured on the play? Not taking a straight line route up the field and attacking his defender? Those are things that give his play depth.
Play In The Red Zone
Below is another example of some depth from Sills, this one against Kansas State in Week 4:
WELP. Good luck with that. If you're going to play in the face of Sills, you have to collision him. Allowing him to displace you at the line of scrimmage is a losing formula.
Some added context to this play. Sills earlier caught a slant from the 1-yard line for a touchdown in this game. So now the cornerback has stepped up and into the alley in an effort to put Sills on an island, making the natural check at the line to a fade route.
But again, Sills creates a window for his quarterback. It would be easy to attack the back pylon and look for the ball. But Sills sells the slant, squaring into the field before gearing down on his second step and flipping vertically. In doing so, Sills offered Grier another yard or two to fit the ball outside.
And at 6-foot-4, Sills has come down with those throws pretty frequently over the last 15 games.
Spoiler alert: Sills is going to run roughshod through the Big 12 through October. The upcoming slate? Texas Tech, Kansas Iowa State, Baylor. The defensive play there is...not great.
Sills' next big test should come against Texas, where some physical defensive backs can potentially offer him a challenge at the line of scrimmage. Sills' success currently comes against free releases, so getting some positive reps defeating press will be a big piece of him further elevating his status as a receiver.