Once a QB prodigy, Delaware native David Sills to show wide receiver skills at NFL Combine
All of this was supposed to be part of the process for David Sills – a celebrated college football career culminating with a strong performance in a bowl game, then becoming the darling of NFL scouts, all of them imploring their teams to select him in the NFL draft.
So it was hardly a surprise that Sills would be among the 338 players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, which will take place from Feb. 27-March 4 in Indianapolis.
But that was supposed to be at quarterback. After all, Sills was trained to be a quarterback ever since childhood growing up near Bear and attending Red Lion Christian Academy, then Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton Maryland.
Sills even got a scholarship offer to Southern Cal as a 7th grader when Lane Kiffin was the head coach.
Nine years later, Sills will arrive in Indianapolis as a wide receiver who led all FBS players in receiving touchdowns the last two seasons with 33.
Sills couldn't be happier.
"I've put quarterback behind me ever since I came back to West Virginia (as a junior)," Sills said. "I'm a wide receiver and I've been working really hard at that. I've learned as much as I could because I've only been playing the position for two years."
That's why Sills' father, David Sills IV, who was instrumental in his son's development as a quarterback, has been helping him prepare for the Combine, but in a different way.
"I’m sitting here doing a spreadsheet of all of the Combine results from last year’s receivers, based on when they got drafted," Sills IV said with a laugh. "Of all the people who got drafted, there are only two that are over a 4.5 in the 40 (yard dash).
"It's just kind of giving him something to know in each particular (drill), what to be shooting for."
Before Sills switched from quarterback to wide receiver for good as a junior at West Virginia, the information was always supposed to be about arm strength and accuracy, with the time in the 40 not nearly as important.
So to many, to see Sills at the Combine as a wide receiver is a surprise. That was the case for his father when Sills, buried on the depth chart at quarterback, first tried playing wide receiver as a freshman at West Virginia at the suggestion of former WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen.
"It was a little bit of a shock because, literally, I had never seen him catch a pass in his life," the elder Sills said. "He did begin to show a lot of athleticism in high school at the quarterback position, but I didn’t think it was wide receiver-type of athleticism.
"I was a little skeptical at the time. But then we went down to his first game and he caught two or three passes, caught a touchdown."
He even caught the game-winning touchdown pass that season in the Cactus Bowl.
At the time, Sills was determined to make it as a quarterback. That's why he transferred to El Camino College, a junior college located just outside of Los Angeles. But after a year there, Sills wasn't getting recruited back to FBS schools as a quarterback, so he decided to return to West Virginia – as a wide receiver.
Three of Sills' former West Virginia teammates on the Eagles are not surprised that Sills has turned into an NFL-caliber wide receiver.
Running back Wendell Smallwood, wide receiver Shelton Gibson (Sills' roommate for a year) and cornerback Rasul Douglas all saw Sills' progression at the position, and kept in touch with Sills while he was at El Camino.
"I knew how athletic he was, how good he was," said Smallwood, who grew up in Wilmington and attended Red Lion and Eastern Christian with Sills. "It wasn’t a surprise because he’s super athletic. He just had to make sure that's what he wanted to do, and I think that's what the year away taught him.
"I was gone when he came back, but I would talk to him and you could see how determined he was to make it as a wide receiver."
Gibson saw that Sills was far down on the quarterback depth chart as a freshman, so he encouraged Sills to keep working at wide receiver.
"When he would do the drills with the receivers, he was able to keep up with the other guys," Gibson said. "He’s very smart. He loves the game of football. So it wasn’t surprising to me whether he was playing quarterback or wide receiver. He just wanted to play. You could see that he was always very competitive going up for the ball."
Added Douglas, who would often cover Sills in practice: "I saw that he had the ability. He’s making catches against guys that were going to go to the league. He always made plays in practice, and he always wanted to work."
Sills, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds, was especially good at using his height to his advantage. And NFL teams love to throw to big receivers in the red zone, especially those who can outleap a cornerback for a touchdown.
Sills showed that over the last two seasons at West Virginia. He caught 125 passes for 1,966 yards during that time for the Mountaineers. As a junior, he was a finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top receiver.
NFL teams, of course, love receivers who can run fast, and Sills IV knows his son will have to show NFL scouts and team executives that he can do that in Indianapolis for the Combine.
Heading into the Combine, some draft experts have Sills going in the middle rounds.
"I think the Combine is going to be really telling," the elder Sills said. "I think if he runs a really good time in the 40, his stock will go up. If he doesn’t run a good time, his stock will go down. Obviously, everyone believes that he’s a red-zone threat, but he wants to prove that he’s more than that.
"He’s so tall that he doesn’t appear that he’s as fast as he is. He wants to show everyone that he is that fast. He’s working very, very hard on that."
Sills has been working hard to prove that. He has been at the EXOS training facility in Carlsbad, California since Jan. 1, four days after Sills wrapped up his college career with four catches for 90 yards in West Virginia's 34-18 loss in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando.
The only times Sills has left the facility were to practice, then play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26, and to travel to Atlanta the weekend of the Super Bowl earlier this month.
Sills caught a touchdown pass at the Senior Bowl.
"I think I put to bed the notion that I'm a possession receiver," Sills said. "I proved that I can be a vertical threat. And I've only been playing the position for two years, so I think I can still get a lot better."
Sills' father said his son has worked diligently on his 40 time, and that the goal is to break 4.6 at the Combine, then again at West Virginia's Pro Day in late March.
"The 40 is going to be big for me," Sills said.
But Gibson said the speed and smarts are already there for Sills.
"He’s fast, but he’s really fast when he gets up to speed," Gibson said. "He’s really shifty when he gets off the line, and he has hands like no other. He’s smart, too, so he’s a complete receiver."
Smallwood said he was always struck by how Sills has handled the attention, beginning as a 13-year-old when he became a national phenomenon for getting that scholarship offer.
And in a way, Smallwood said the attention Sills got benefited him, too.
"I thought it was huge," Smallwood said. "I had never met someone with college offers. At his age, for that to happen, it was amazing. I was truly happy for him and it created a lot of opportunities for me because there were always teams coming to see him and watch him, and then they'd notice me. I got a chance to get my name out there, and that’s how I ended up getting to college and getting offers."
And now, Sills is on the verge of getting to the NFL, just like Smallwood and the other Eagles from West Virginia have. It's just that Sills' path was a lot different than the others.
"I’m definitely amazed at what he has done," Smallwood said. "He hasn’t played that position ever until college, and then be in contention for Biletnikoff Award. It’s crazy. He’s going to get drafted, and some team is going to be very happy that they have him.
"I hope it's us."
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.