The Oakland Raiders shocked everyone (even their fans) when they selected Darrius Heyward-Bey No. 7 overall in last year's draft. Heyward-Bey possesses a set of physical skills that compare favorably to many of the top wide receivers in the game. Naturally, Al Davis didn't pass on the potential.
The irony of the situation was that Davis had most likely drafted a more gifted wide receiver with Oakland's previous pick - the season before.
Chaz Schilens was the 226th pick of the 2008 draft and the Raiders' final pick.
Schilens had a very average college career at San Diego State - the school best known for producing Marshall Faulk. In his three full seasons in San Diego, he never had more than 35 receptions.
In fact, in his senior season he wasn't even close to leading his team in receptions or yards. He battled injuries and was 23 receptions behind the team leader.
Going into the final three games of his senior season, San Diego State's leading receiver had 701 yards. Schilens had 184. What he did in the next three games is what landed him in a Raiders uniform. In three losses, he put up 495 yards on only 20 receptions - more than each of his previous two seasons.
Somewhere on a golf cart not all that far away he had Davis' undivided attention.
To most NFL scouts, those games were swallowed up by his pedestrian college career. Luckily for Schilens and Heyward-Bey, the Raiders don't care about stats. They care about measurements and stop watches.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he has the size to be a real red zone threat, but thats not what sold the team. His 4.38 speed at the combine compares with any draft prospect in memory. His size reminds us of former Miami receiver Andre Johnson. Andre was 6-foot-3and 222 pounds coming out of college and did not run at the combine. He was clocked all over the place, but ran an average of around 4.40 at the Miami pro day.
The freakish Calvin Johnson ran a 4.35 at the combine (in another man's shoes none the less). Calvin is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds.
Physically, Schilens can keep up with any NFL wide receiver, but that doesn't mean anything unless it translates to NFL success.
Schilens scored in the final two games of his rookie NFL season and looked like a Pro Bowl caliber receiver during the following preseason. His quickness after the catch was a surprise to even those who watched his rookie season.
Unfortunately, the injury bug that plagued his college and rookie seasons struck once again. He broke a small bone in his foot and never fully returned in 2009.
To compound the problem, Jamarcus Russell literally ate through his rookie contract and Heyward-Bey had a terrible time adapting to the NFL.
This season, all the buzz is surrounding Heyward-Bey and his solid training camp - which is great. But while all eyes are one Heyward-Bey and his development, the real news is going to be how Schilens' foot responds to the stress of the next five weeks.
He needs to be the man to take the pressure off Heyward-Bey. In fact, he needs to be in the Pro Bowl. If he can stay healthy for 16 games, he will at the very least win a lot of fantasy football matches for his fans.
Heyward-Bey is not going to take the league by storm. He may at some point in his career, but there's a reason that most receivers make the jump in their third year. It takes more than one season to learn the position at NFL speed.
The future of the Oakland Raider passing game is Louis Murphy, Heyward-Bey and Schilens, but the success of the 2010 season hinges on a tiny bone in Schilens' foot.
No time is more important than the present. The Raiders are not deep at wide receiver and desperately need a respectable passing attack. The health of Schilens can make the Raider offense well above average. Another setback could set the team back one more year as we wait for Heyward-Bey and Murphy to develop.
We're all hoping for the best.
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