Oakland Raiders Receivers: Jacoby Ford May Make Darrius Heyward-Bey Irrelevant
Darrius Heyward-Bey was coming off a career-high five catches for 105 receiving yards. So Raider Nation had reason to believe that was all he needed to continue performing like a first round draft pick.
So what would he do for an encore? Nothing.
He disappeared with Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens and Zack Miller out. Heyward-Bey didn't have a single catch in five targets, as dropped balls did enter the equation.
But a new weapon was found in rookie speedster Jacoby Ford. He did have a drop early on, but went on to make some big time, clutch catches in the game to go with his 94-yard kick return for a touchdown.
This breakout performance could minimize the role of Heyward-Bey.
Turn the page to see how.
Ahead of Heyward-Bey's First Year
Jacoby Ford is way ahead of where Darrius Heyward-Bey was last year. One can even make a case that he is ahead of where he is now.
There is a lot that goes into being a receiver in the NFL, and Ford seems to be picking it up fast. He just looks like he knows what he's doing opposed to Heyward-Bey being lost at times.
The Raiders lost precious time in the two-minute drill Sunday trying to get Heyward-Bey lined up right. Ford was obviously the main weapon in that two-minute drill and this experience comes as a rookie.
The Raiders have trusted Ford with more in less time.
Even though Ford had a drop, he showed some good hands on Sunday. He catches the ball with his hands, outside of his body, with no problem.
He doesn't fight the ball.
That is a problem Heyward-Bey still has sometimes.
Desire and Ball Tracking
When a football is thrown toward Ford, he does a great job of finding and adjusting to it. Ford's desire to get the ball takes him the rest of the way, and he makes spectacular catches.
The Raiders throw a lot of deep balls, and the deep ball is not a high percentage play. Even Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees don't always throw their deep balls perfectly.
That is why the quarterback needs all the help he can get on such plays.
Heyward-Bey has yet to show that ability.
The Ball Belongs to Him
One thing that Raider Nation saw early is that Ford believes every ball thrown in his direction belongs to him. That was evident on a play that quarterback Jason Campbell threw his way that was nearly intercepted.
Ford came back to the ball and took it from the defender for another clutch catch. That play had to gain the trust of Campbell because he made a big play while not letting Campbell's pass get intercepted.
Campbell is already battling his fear of throwing interceptions so that had to make him feel better about taking risks.
Rapport With Jason Campbell
While the aforementioned big play helped his rapport with Campbell but that isn't where it started. When Campbell was benched in favor of fan favorite Bruce Gradkowski, Ford took second-team practice reps with him.
It was with those reps that the timing, chemistry and rapport was originally established.
Then an injury to Gradkowski forced Campbell back into the fold as the starting quarterback. Ford got his opportunity through injuries to Murphy, Schilens and Nick Miller.
Campbell and Ford now have timing and chemistry from game experience.
With Campbell being known for check downs, it is important for Raider receiver to get open. I didn't see a whole lot of Heyward-Bey running down field wide open.
Ford does a good job of getting separation because he is shorter and more sudden than Heyward-Bey. This leads to Ford getting open and presenting himself to Campbell to get balls thrown to him.
I'm sure his return man skills help in this area as well.
Being quick and fast beats being fast.
Running After the Catch
Here's another area that being a return man helps Ford.
Ford ran a kick back 94 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.
So that makes it a given that Ford is a dangerous man running after the catch. He has the speed, quickness and enough power to run through arm tackles.
It will be exciting to see what the Raiders do to take advantage of that.
Ford's hands, route running and running after the catch make him a versatility the Raiders need. Part of what makes him such a great deep threat is the fact that it doesn't have to be deep threats with him.
Heyward-Bey is a bit of a one-trick pony with the 20-yard comeback route. With Ford you don't know what he's going to do, as he can take a five-yard slant to the house just as well.
You can pay for playing off him too.
Ford's 4.28 to Hewyard Bey's 4.30 isn't a whole lot, but that's not the whole story. Ford has more football speed as he gets to top speed in seemingly one step.
He's faster out of his break on top of that, and has the aforementioned suddenness and quickness. When you mix that with being a hair faster, he seems 10 times faster.
As Mike Mayock would say, "He just plays faster."
The Clutch Gene
Ford showed Raider Nation that he has the clutch gene on Sunday. The more the Raiders needed a big play, the bigger play he made.
His 47-yard catch in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal is proof of just that.
Heyward-Bey so far has either disappeared or dropped the ball in the clutch. His big plays and big game came in a 33-3 blowout of the Seattle Seahawks.
Heyward-Bey had yet to be found in the clutch.
When Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy come back, I wonder what the Raiders will do with their 2009 first round pick. Not only is he more advanced with better hands and versatility than Heyward-Bey, but he is faster.
The reason why Heyward-Bey was drafted so high is because Raider owner Al Davis is looking for the next Cliff Branch.
Do you remember the way Branch made spectacular catches in the clutch?
Ford is a rookie drafted later than Heyward-Bey, but think about it. Who looks more like the next Cliff Branch to you?
I hope you enjoyed the slide show.