Continuing to impress in recent weeks, undrafted rookie wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. posted his best career performance on Sunday at FedExField in front of his family. It was the first time Sims' parents saw him score in the regular season, adding even more meaning to an already special game.
"That's great, that's the biggest part about it, because my mom always says, 'You always score, you always act a fool when I'm not there,' Sims said. "So, for me to have a big game today after everything we've been through this week, it's amazing."
Sunday's divisional battle was the culmination of an emotional week for Sims, who traveled to Louisiana earlier in the week for his grandfather's funeral. With his family in attendance, Sims posted a career highs in receptions (six), yards (64) and touchdowns (two).
"It was fun for me to go out there and just let it all loose and play," Sims said. "With the weight on my shoulders, I just let it go and just played free."
Sims missed last Thursday's practice to attend the funeral, but didn't miss a beat on Sunday when he put together an impressive performance. It's yet another sign of the growth and maturation he's made since signing with the Redskins as a free agent immediately following the 2019 NFL Draft.
"He's electrifying in a lot of ways," interim head coach Bill Callahan said. "I just love his ability to be the slot receiver. He's got a lot of similarities to those smaller type slot receivers across the league, like Cole Beasley, who I was with in Dallas, the Danny Amendola(s) and the Julian Edelman(s), players of that caliber."
Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sims played only 7% of the offensive snaps as he was primarily used as a kick returner. He currently ranks second in the NFL in kick return yards (799) and fifth in average kick return yards (25.8) while being one of only six players with a kickoff return touchdown this season.
"I think [Steven Sims] has come along so well, and I really do believe it starts on special teams," Callahan said. "When you're in that role as a returner and you're making big plays, then your role gets heightened and it increases to the point where you're trying to utilize him on different type of specials."
As the season progressed, Sims gradually earned more offensive snaps as the Redskins tried to get him involved in a multitude of ways. In Week 5 against the New England Patriots, Sims played more than 50% of the snaps for the first time in his career. During that game, he flashed his speed, elusiveness and big-play ability with a 65-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep.
Playing minimally over the next several games, the door opened for Sims to receive increased snaps on offense when starting slot receiver Trey Quinn sustained a concussion against the Carolina Panthers in Week 13. Since being thrust into a starting role, Sims has taken full advantage of his opportunity with 18 catches for 178 yards and three touchdowns in four games.
"He's doing a great job as far as getting better with his route running," quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. said. "He's a very shifty guy, so sometimes he can put himself out of place, but he definitely does a great job getting open, and I feel like he's continuing to get better with understanding the concept of where he's at in the progression. He's doing a great job at that."
His improved route running was on full display against the Giants, particularly on his second touchdown reception, a seven-yarder from Case Keenum. With the Redskins down two scores and in need of a big play, Sims faked to the outside and then bounced back inside to create separation from cornerback Corey Ballentine. In addition to his pristine footwork, Sims also displayed great awareness by ensuring he got both feet down with a toe drag near the back of the end zone.
The touchdown provided another example of Sims' great quickness and ability to gain separation from defenders. This wasn't new to offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, however, who recognized that quickness and burst during training camp this summer. In Quinn's absence, O'Connell has utilized Sims more often in a wide variety of formations and route combinations.
"I can remember him at rookie minicamp, funny enough, immediately flashing the first one-on-one period we had against the defense running routes," O'Connell said. "Steven was showing up, you're checking your roster and you're looking at this number 15 keep showing up and then that consistently happened. His skillset is real."
Sims has been targeted 21 times in the past two games from his slot position, and he'll have a chance to cap his rookie campaign on a positive note in Dallas this weekend.
"His growth, I couldn't be more proud or happy for him as a player and for our team. He's taken over that slot role," Callahan said. "I see a bright future for him. I see him being the slot receiver for the Redskins for a long period of time. I think he's really just starting -- he's at the tip of the iceberg in my opinion. I think he can do so much more."
Previously an undrafted free agent, Sims has grown to become a focal point of the Washington offense and a vital member of a promising young receiving corps. Nearing the end of his rookie season, Sims' long journey is not lost on him. Looking back, Sims has been able to gain an appreciation for what he's been through.
"I just hope it's an inspiration to other people," Sims said about his road to the Redskins. "Undrafted, came pretty much a long shot here, so I just came a long way. I just hope I can inspire others, I know I inspire a lot of people back home, so that's all I'm trying to do."