Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey has been one of the bigger first-round draft busts of recent memory, but the fifth-year pro was hopeful that a change of scenery would be just the thing to jump-start his NFL career.
However, an injury that could cost the 26-year-old significant time has derailed those plans for the time being, raising the question of how big an impact Heyward-Bey's loss will have on his new team.
Heyward-Bey, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency after four years in Oakland, left Sunday's practice with an injured knee according to Mike Chappell of The Indianapolis Star.
Rotoworld's Evan Silva then passed along further word on the knee courtesy of ESPN's Chris Mortensen, and that news wasn't good.
Frankly, the biggest loser in all this is probably Heyward-Bey himself. After seeming to turn a corner of sorts in 2011 with nearly 1,000 receiving yards, Heyward-Bey managed only 41 catches for 606 yards an an injury-marred 2012, although he did reel in a career-high five touchdown receptions.
However, that wasn't enough for the cap-strapped Raiders, who rid themselves of Heyward-Bey and his inflated "old CBA" contract.
The Colts were supposed to be Heyward-Bey's second chance in the NFL, but it now appears that the battle between Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton to start opposite Reggie Wayne is over before it ever really started.
It's too bad, really. Heyward-Bey had some issues with the drops that have plagued him throughout his NFL career in training camp, but Wayne told the Associated Press via ESPN that Heyward-Bey had been making strides, saying "He's growing, he's getting better and better each week. He can be a freak of nature, he really can be. So I'm here to help him in whatever way I can."
The injury came at a very inopportune time for the Colts as well. Hilton showed flashes of real promise last year and is a capable battery-mate for Wayne, but the slot has become a real problem now.
2012 starter Donnie Avery is in Kansas City. LaVon Brazill has been suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Behind him is a menagerie of unproven youngsters.
The team could conceivable look outside the organization for help, but with Laurent Robinson the most prominent free agent still available, it's hard to say how much help that would be.
It's going to be a scramble job for offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to cobble together a slot receiver, at least for the first month of the season.
In fact, the team's best bet at slot receiver might not even be a wide receiver. In 2012 the Colts drafted a pair of tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwyane Allen. It was Allen that was the stronger performer as a rookie, hauling in 45 passes for 521 yards and three scores.
However, this year Fleener (and quarterback Andrew Luck) are reunited with their offensive coordinator from Stanford, and Pep Hamilton may well decide to offset the loss of Heyward-Bey by keeping both Allen and Fleener on the field in more two-tight end sets until Brazill and/or Heyward-Bey returns.
With fantasy draft season ramping up it's also worth taking a look at what impact Heyward-Bey's injury has on both his fantasy value and that of his teammates.
Frankly, it's minimal. Heyward-Bey was being drafted in only in the deepest of leagues. Hilton, Allen and Fleener could see a bump in targets (at least until Heyward-Bey and Brazill are back in the fold), but it's not likely to significantly impact their fantasy stock.
The Indianapolis Colts took huge strides during the magical "Chuckstrong" season of 2012, going from 2-14 in 2011 to the playoffs a year ago.
With that said, there's precious little margin for error in a deep AFC.
It's not difficult to envision, given the totality of the circumstances, that Darrius Heyward-Bey's absence could have a bigger impact on the Colts' chances in the AFC South than his presence would have.
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