I’m envisioning the myriad reactions most of you had when you saw the headline and am also fairly certain that, before you even read a word of this, you were sharpening your literary knives. I can’t say I blame you either, what with this being eighth game of the season and David Sills having played receiver for less than one season over the course of his entire life.
But, such is the nature of bold proclamations. Sometimes you just feel something so intensely that you have to put it out there to be dissected and, having watched the Delaware native throughout this season, I’m starting to think I’m less and less crazy for considering this as fact.
What David Sills is doing is sensational, to put it in plain terms. In a vacuum, his 2017 stat line is jarring at any level: 15 touchdowns, 46 receptions, 737 yards over seven games. Now, add in the additional context that Sills has only played wide receiver in a total of 13 games throughout his entire life. Consider also, that Sills, prior to arriving back on campus earlier this year, was entirely devoted to honing his craft under center as a quarterback. Lastly, consider that this is all being done in a conference that more or less functions as production line for wide receivers boasting gaudy statistics and NFL-caliber talent.
The entire picture, then, develops into something richly detailed. What David Sills is doing for West Virginia is unprecedented.
Indeed, the most current and relevant example that one could provide that compares to what Sills is doing is Braxton Miller’s transition to the wide receiver role during his senior year at Ohio State. While Miller’s conversion was notable (due largely to his role as a fixture in a college blue blood’s offense), his 2015 stat line (25 receptions, 3 TD’s, 340 yards) was fairly unremarkable.
The larger point here, at least in the context of college football on a national scale, is that there really isn’t a blueprint for the level of success that Sill is experiencing this year.
Now, about that whole “GOAT status at West Virginia” thing that I mentioned...
When you think of the pantheon of great wide receivers at West Virginia, several names should immediately come to mind: Stedman Bailey, Kevin White, Tavon Austin, Chris Henry, Shawn Foreman, David Saunders, Darius Reynaud- all names that are etched in the record books to some degree. Also important to note, is that every one of the players I listed had multiple years, not only playing for the Mountaineers, but multiple years playing the receiver position itself.
Like any position, receiver has nuances. It’s not just running fast and making sure the ball hits you in the hands. There’s timing, there are route trees, route concepts, there are mechanics involved in breaking in and out of routes the right way, there’s blocking, there’s reading defensive pre/post-snap. There are a litany of things involved in being an effective down field weapon beyond just lining up and running past defensive backs.
Yet, we’re witnessing someone take the multitude of aspects involved in the wide receiver position and seemingly master them in real time during his first full season playing it.
Additionally, you can’t even lean on the argument that David Sills is a one trick pony, that he plies his trade just running go routes or bullies people on jump balls in the red zone. No, friend-o’s, that’s not the case. #13 is making plays in every conceivable fashion. Jump balls, fade routes, screens, crossing routes where he simply out runs the defense, etc. The only thing he hasn’t done is pull a page out of Bugs Bunny’s play book and snap the ball to himself, throw the ball and run downfield to catch it for six. I’m also not saying it’s outside the realm of possibility. Cartoons be damned, I think Sills can make it happen.
Currently, the single season records at WVU stand as such:
- 1,622 (Stedman Bailey)
- 1,447(Kevin White)
- 1,289 (Tavon Austin)
- 1,279 (Stedman Bailey)
- 1,186 (Tavon Austin)
- 114 (TIED Stedman Bailey & Tavon Austin)
- 109 (Kevin White)
- 101 (Tavon Austin)
- 77 (TIED Shawn Foreman & David Saunders)
- 76 (David Saunders)
- 25 (Stedman Bailey)
- 15 (David Sills)
- 12 (TIED Chris Henry, Darius Reynaud, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin)
- 11 (TIED Reggie Rembert & Mario Alford)
- 10 (TIED Cedric Thomas, Chris Henry, Kevin White)
Statistically speaking, David Sills is extremely well positioned to match and/or exceed all three of these records. At his current pace, assuming that it is at least maintained, Sills is set to end this season as second in receiving yards, third in receptions and first in touchdown grabs. Again, to reiterate, this is merely him maintaining the status quo.
With the Mountaineers currently averaging 43.29 PPG and its offense clocking over 539 yards per contest, Sills is firmly nestled inside an offensive incubator. Not lost in all of this has been the ascension of junior signal caller Will Grier, who has benefitted greater than anyone from having Sills line up out wide. There’s no exact science by which we can calculate how many of Sills’ big plays were the result of being “thrown open” by Grier, but I would bet good money that it’s a decent clip.
Were it not Grier under center and instead someone with less football IQ and a weaker arm, it’s likely that Sills would not be having quite the season that he is. That’s all conjecture and, frankly, not that flavor that I’m interested in.
The reality of what’s happening is that opposing defenses know that David Sills is going to get the ball and there’s nothing anyone has done (thus far) that has been able to hinder that. Sills. just. scores. In droves.
With Kevin White during his 2014 run, you attributed it to his athleticism. That he was carved out of granite, just muscle piled on top of muscle. With Tavon Austin, during his legendary 2012 season, it was because he was resembled a lens flare and was, as many a would-be tackler will tell you, without form. Stedman Bailey, as smooth a runner as he was, had hands the size of satellite dishes and for a football, his wingspan might have been a black hole from which there was no escape.
David Sills, however, is something else. As a receiver, when compared the Mountaineer greats that came before him, doesn’t stack up quite as linearly. He’s not colony of muscle like White or a drag car with zero degree turn capability like Austin. Sills just is. If there’s any truism one could prescribe to the game David Sills plays, it’s that it’s fluid, graceful, even. His speed is so deceptive and his body control so complete that it looks as if he’s just plodding through warm ups, removed from anything one could perceive as nerves.
With five games remaining on the Mountaineers’ slate, anything could happen. The Big 12 race is wide open and the last time a #11 ranked Oklahoma State team ventured into Morgantown so heavily favored as they are this Saturday, they left a little heavier in the loss column. Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma all remain beyond the Pokes from Stillwater. In football parlance, a lifetime separates the now from whatever post season destination the Mountaineers are traveling towards.
The future, beyond this season, is just as uncertain. The enticement of the NFL could prove too much to ignore and then, just as suddenly as we were welcoming him back to Morgantown for his second chapter, we could be waving a final goodbye to David Sills as he goes to vie for a spot on an NFL roster.
I hesitate to look any farther than Saturday. I want to enjoy this. I want to fully realize what we’re witnessing. Apologies to Mason Rudolph and James Washington, but there isn’t a quarterback/receiver duo in the United States that is as dangerous and as capable as Will Grier and David Sills.
With another year to master his craft, it almost defies logic what Sills is capable of achieving. To have come so far, so fast and in such unsung fashion, is truly special to witness. Fans, myself included, like to circle around the campfire and postulate what one player from one era could have done in another, which player from different teams could win in a head-to-head, who is the greatest ever and so forth.
In late September, if you had told me that I’d soon be arguing David Sills’ legitimacy as best ever, I’d tell you to go get some fresh mountain air. But here I am, about to dot the final i’s on something pointed and deliberate and, dammit, something I firmly believe.
Yeah, a lot can happen in the space of five games. A lot already has. As unlikely as this story has already been, I predict the outcome my venture further into unreality. None among you thought you would see a former quarterback prodigy who left Morgantown to chase a different dream return and re-write every receiving record in the book. Yet, that’s what we’re watching unfold before our very eyes.
The rest of the country won’t be wise to this, but I’ll let you all in on something well before the bandwagon gets too top heavy:
David Sills may well be the best wide receiver West Virginia has ever had.