When Oklahoma wide receiver Kenny Stills declared for the NFL Draft a year early some labeled it a mistake, a theory that gained momentum when Stills slid to the fifth round.
Stills, though, is a reminder what round a player is drafted can be trumped by opportunity.
New Orleans usually makes young receivers wait a year or two, but Stills has a shot at being the Saints' No. 3 receiver his rookie season.
“I want to show people that I deserve to be in this league,” Stills said. “A lot of people questioned me leaving early. I feel I can be good. I have a chip on my shoulder. I'm playing with a lot to prove.”
Stills wasn't drafted until the 144th overall selection. But he's made such an impression in offseason workouts and training camp he could be the first Saints rookie receiver to play a key role since Marques Colston in 2007.
Coach Sean Payton is so high on Stills, the San Diego product started last week's preseason opener against Kansas City. Stills filled in for Colston, who was experiencing swelling around his surgically repaired right kneecap.
“(Stills) picked up things well, runs well,” Payton told the New Orleans Time-Picayune. “He's going to have to contribute. He's shown enough early in camp we think he can. He's smart. He's learned quickly.”
Stills' performance was sloppy at times in the preseason opener. His stiffest competition could be veteran Steve Breaston.
Colston hopes to play in the Saints' second preseason game Friday night against the Oakland Raiders, but Stills will play several snaps.
Stills' father, Ken, will be watching. Ken played six years in the NFL. After his son's subpar effort last week he reminded Kenny there are no guarantees, that he better step it up.
Ken played at Wisconsin and was a safety five seasons with the Packers, one with the Vikings. He also coached in Frankfurt and Amsterdam.
“I've been around with my dad playing and coaching,” Stills said. “I knew what I was I was getting into.”
Stills' performance in the opener wasn't awful. The highlight was an acrobatic 22-yard, back-shoulder catch. But earlier in the game he fumbled an exchange on an end-around run. He also failed to haul in a tough catch on a deep ball labeled a drop and was flagged for a questionable pass interference penalty.
Daily practice sessions impact decisions, but Stills knows preseason games are pivotal.
“I've always embraced battles that are a daily occurrence,” Stills said. “There's a lot to it, but the bottom line as a receiver is to run the right route, get open and make plays.”
Making an immediate impact is nothing new for Stills, who was in the limelight the moment he stepped on OU's campus.
A highly touted receiver from California, Stills was the first true freshman coach Bob Stoops made available to the media in years.
His off-the-field antics created a buzz. On the field, Stills was an instant starter. He established freshmen school receiving records for receptions (61) and receiving yards (786). Stills finished his career fourth in school history for receptions (204), third in receiving yards.