Quentin Sims did not land in Foxborough as a priority free agent at the conclusion of the 2013 NFL draft. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Tennessee-Martin product, who began his college career at Georgia Tech, was more so an afterthought well behind the 19 names who were.
After amassing 140 catches for 1,804 yards and 26 touchdowns over two seasons with the Skyhawks, and setting the Ohio Valley Conference record with 16 touchdowns as a senior, Sims ventured to the Raycom All-Star Classic and participated in the Lane College pro day from there.
Four months later, as veteran free-agent addition Donald Jones was released, he signed along with fellow wide receiver Perez Ashford before the start of New England Patriots training camp on July 19.
But Sims would not go as quietly as the circumstances in which he arrived under – even if his first two preseason games with New England ended in zeroes.
By the third exhibition, Sims got in the stat sheet with a 14-yard reception in what was a 40-9 loss to the Detroit Lions. By the fourth, the undrafted rookie from Cincinnati, Ohio had some wondering whether he’d shown enough glimpses to warrant a place on the depth chart behind the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, second-round pick Aaron Dobson, fourth-rounder Josh Boyce, and the also-undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins.
Sims reeled in three passes for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the 2013 preseason finale against the New York Giants. His 52-yard scoring strike from quarterback Tim Tebow early in the fourth quarter was followed up by one of nine yards with 10 seconds remaining as the Patriots logged a 28-20 win at Gillette Stadium.
“I knew I had a chance to get open,” Sims said postgame of the first touchdown. “It was man coverage – I noticed the man guarding me fell on the pass and I saw a single-high safety and I just tried to outrun him.”
On the second touchdown – a fade to the right corner – Sims outleaped him.
The game itself held little significance. Sims’ performance against many soon-to-be unemployed players, however, was one final, last-gasp effort for him not to become one as well. But being on the field in the closing minutes of the preseason is often telling. For Sims, it was no different.
“This is the toughest part of the job,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in his press conference before roster cutdowns filed in. “We go to camp with 90 guys and we go to 53, so we know that we’re going to have to tell 37 people that they can’t be on the team. That’s the math. It’s always hard when guys work hard, do everything you ask them to do, train hard, put forth all the effort they can put forth and you still have to tell 37 guys that they can’t be a part of the team this year.”
As the 90 went to 75 and then to 53, the Patriots waived Sims before retaining him as a member of the practice squad on Sept. 2. Only his time there on the then-eight-man scout team would be brief. New England ultimately released No. 84 eight days later to make room for defensive tackle A.J. Francis.
And that would be it.
Sims would not be back in New England. He would not be back in the NFL, either, despite a midseason tryout with the Baltimore Ravens and a contract offer from the Atlanta Falcons leading up to 2014.
Sims instead signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League that February, and played in one game for the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League later that spring. Then, he caught three passes for two touchdowns in one game with the Arizona Rattlers in 2015.
But Sims checked in to secure many more during his first season with the Cleveland Gladiators in 2016.
Sims finished 2016 ranked second on the club with 92 grabs for 1,112 yards and 27 touchdowns over 12 contests, with five of those TDs and 198 of those yards transpiring in one game versus the now-defunct Los Angeles Kiss. He has not let up since then.
Four years after cracking the NFL door open, Sims finds himself the Gladiators’ elected team representative, and the fast-paced AFL’s leader in receiving yards.
Sims has brought in 38 passes for 487 yards and 10 touchdowns through four contests for Cleveland this season. On a 1-4 team in last place, the 26-year-old stands third in the league in receptions and is tied for third in receiving touchdowns. And while he has appeared in one fewer game than his counterparts, he resides 14 receiving yards ahead of the second-seeded LaMark Brown – once a member of the Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings – of the Tampa Bay Storm.
Sims has also collected 16 yards and a pair of touchdowns on six rushing attempts. That’s part of the job, too, when most AFL running backs are fullbacks built for goal-line dives.
It isn’t likely the type of football Sims thought he’d be playing now. It isn’t likely where the ex-Patriot hoped he’d wind up – running routes with a head start against eight defenders on an 85-by-200-foot field, tackling return men who are fielding kicks off a net, colliding with foam-padded walls to snare passes in league down to five franchises. But it is still football.
And before a crowd of roughly 10,000 on a good day at Quicken Loans Arena, Sims is still making his way.