With Darrius Heyward-Bey now making the rounds, as part of 2013 NFL free agency, it is easy to recall the controversy with which his professional career began. The Raiders seized him with the seventh overall selection of the 2009 NFL Draft, in great part because the late Al Davis was enamored with his 4.30 40-yard dash performance during the NFL Combine. Oakland believed that they had secured a speedy wideout who would stretch opposing defenses in a similar manner to legendary Raider receivers from the past. In doing so, they ignored concerns about DHB’s route running acumen, and his ability to simply catch the ball.
Unfortunately, those shortcomings were far more prominent than the sporadic game changing plays that he registered in four seasons with the team. Despite an excellent attitude, and correspondingly strong work ethic, DHB only averaged 35 receptions, 518 yards and less than three TDs during his tenure with Oakland. The high degree of erroneous judgment that occurred by utilizing a top ten pick on a WR who could never live up to his lofty draft position is further magnified by the fact that Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, Michael Crabtree and Kenny Britt were among the remaining options at the position, and were subsequently taken later in the same round. To further cement the folly, Mike Wallace was also available, before Pittsburgh grabbed him in Round 3.
While the other high profile receivers from that draft class have firmly established themselves as essential component on the teams that drafted them, or as proven difference makers, DHB simply finds himself searching for work. Current Raider GM Reggie McKenzie was not inclined to pay the $7.97 million that would have been required in order to keep DHB this season, and released the former Terrapin on March 12. After several weeks of inactivity, Heyward-Bey recently met with the Colts and Lions, but has not received a contract from either team.
While it might be easy to allow your perception of Heyward-Bey to be dominated by his disparity between the Raiders’ flawed perception of what he could accomplish and his actual achievements, he should not be blamed for being drafted far too early. Instead, he should be evaluated primarily upon what he can supply to a team, and how that offsets his imperfections. That is almost assuredly the approach that is being undertaken by the franchises that have displayed interest in him, and their eventual decision will further define his career.
It is a credit to his character that he has consistently demonstrated a team oriented attitude, along with the aforementioned robust work ethic. All of which has enabled him to progress since the inception of his career. His most productive season occurred in 2011, when he just missed a 1,000-yard season despite being held without a reception in three contests. He also recorded his career best numbers in nearly every major category by being targeted 115 times, collecting 64 of those passes, and accumulating 975 yards. While he later generated a career high five TDs in 2012, his targets (80), receptions (41), and yardage total (606) all declined. A partial factor in that reduction was the contest that he missed while recovering from both a concussion and a neck injury. However, he also simply failed to record a catch in two other games. Overall, his inability to build upon the numbers that he attained in 2011 was a setback, and also illustrates the general disappointment that summarizes his time with the Raiders.
Because even though his effectiveness increased when compared to the first two years of his career, it is troubling that he now enters his fifth season as a professional still possessing the same deficiencies that created unease in 2009.While his swiftness should help him manufacture success on deep patterns, that has not come to pass. A total of 68 WRs and TEs combined, managed to generate more receptions of 20+ yards than the eight that were produced by DHB in 2012. In fairness, his 14 catches that exceeded 20 yards in 2011 were the 28th most in the NFL, which is a far better outcome. However, it still falls short of expectations for someone who possesses his degree of speed.
And it occured because there are still too many occasions in which he can’t gain separation, or does not run a crisp route that would have engendered the confidence of his QB. Most importantly, he also remains prone to drops, and has the tendency to rely upon his body when attempting to catch the ball. These unfavorable tendencies will not prohibit him from eventually reaching an agreement with a new team. But it does raise an enormous question concerning both DHB's future and his value to fantasy owners. Because it creates doubt as to whether or not he can capture a starting slot with the franchise that ultimately secures his services.
Given Heyward-Bey's failure to establish himself as a starter in Oakland despite being supplied with an extensive opportunity to do so, he now appears destined to become an accessory within the offensive strategy of his new team, as opposed to becoming a primary element in their aerial attack. If he does ultimately become a Lion, you should not expect to see him lining up opposite Megatron on a regular basis. And he certainly will not ascend beyond Reggie Wayne or T. J. Hilton if he signs a contract with Indianapolis. In fact, no matter which team consummates a deal with DHB, it is best to presume that will become a situational receiver, with the best case scenario being regular employment as a WR3. And his numbers will not surpass the underwhelming output that he achieved in 2012.