I decided to step away from the Davis/Cable/Jackson saga to tackle another topic I know a lot of Raider Fans debate about, and that's the subject of Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Taken with the seventh pick in the 2009 Draft, a pick that many of us (including myself) thought was reserved for Michael Crabtree, it seems like the Oakland Organization (i.e. Al Davis) saw something in him that seemingly no one else did.
As a Seminole fan, I have watched my 'Noles take on some of the greatest defenders, hardest hitters, and quickest people to make the jump to the NFL.
From Jacoby Ford and CJ Spiller at Clemson to Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Santana Moss, Mike Rumph, and Phillip Buchanon at Miami to Darrius Heyward-Bey in Maryland, I have seen 'em all.
Heyward-Bey is as everyone says; a speed demon. He has incredible speed but less than incredible hands, which is why he is constantly put on the spot for being a wasted draft pick.
But is he really?
Stay with me here, don't trail off just yet. As I've said many times in comments for different articles in the Raider Community, I'm not a fan who lives life with black and silver lenses over my eyes.
I can admit fault, failure, and bad talents when I see them but in the case of DHB, I don't think he's as bad as people make him out to be.
He has not had the season that is expected from a first-round receiver but nobody expected him to be taken, outside of probably Amy Trask and Mark Allen that early in the draft.
Heyward-Bey's speed is amazing; nobody can take that away from him. He has had issues with catching passes and has worked on drills to improve his hands this past off-season and progress had been made.
There is a different reason why Heyward-Bey is not at the level most Oakland fans would like him to be at (including myself) but the biggest by far is the lack of passes thrown to him per game.
Can you really sit down, think back about our season and recall a game where Heyward-Bey was thrown the ball more than two or three a quarter outside of the Indy game?
This is the first thing I noticed before deciding to write this article: he doesn't get a lot of chances to make plays.
This season alone, he has garnered 26 receptions for 366 yards receiving, of course with one touchdown (69 yards against the Seahawks). Impressive? Not at all.
Not for a man who was taken with such a high draft pick and was supposed to be our generation's Tim Brown.
Take Michael Crabtree, the Red (Almost) Raider who pulled in 55 receptions for 748 yards with 8 touchdowns. Impressive? Eh...better than DHB's stats, though.
That's 26 receptions more Crabtree has on Heyward-Bey and many factors could be taken into consideration, but there are no excuses.
Some may say Heyward-Bey does not run proper or correct routes...or DHB can't get open and Crabtree does. But is this really true?
Should we really put all the blame on DHB instead of attributing the fact that Oakland's primary way to move the ball is in the hands of DMC and Mike Bush?
And when that does not work out, is Zach Miller or Louis Murphy are not thrown to? I won’t bring up our pretty bad pass-blocking offensive line who doesn’t give Campbell enough time to even find them (Miller and Murphy) some times.
I'm not making or attempting to make excuses for DHB, he's a professional and getting paid to catch footballs as well as move chains and score touchdowns but how can he do that when he isn't given the right chances to execute?
My biggest argument is Campbell's lack of time to deliver to DHB deep, which is why we all know Davis drafted DHB. The ability (and threat) of DHB's blazing speed MUST be accounted for, especially deep—but he doesn’t have the chance to get there.
Which is how I move to my next point..
DHB = A pretty good decoy.
How many games have you seen Heyward-Bey get played single coverage despite Denver? If you check back, TiVo, DVR, or just through highlights, Heyward-Bey is ALWAYS accounted for by the defense.
He's quick and while he may have a case of stonehandinitis, defenses still need to keep him in check or else he can burn them for a long one like he did against Seattle.
Heyward-Bey takes pressure off of Zach Miller and sometimes the short slants [like what Reese pulls off] allowing them a greater chance to catch the football and move down the field.
I think he acts as a decoy perfectly, enough to allow other players to be involved in the game and help Oakland drive.
Especially with how quick he can get off the line of scrimmage before a defender can knock him off course (DHB needs to have space given as a compliment or else he will zoom past you and leave you in dust) that space created gives other WR's a chance to fit into the open windows.
For the record I DO NOT attribute ALL of Miller and Reece's receptions to DHB being a decoy, he does draw attention.
Miller is a consistent play maker; DHB has potential to be a play maker but needs to crawl before he can walk or in this case, catch before he can run.
He does play the role of decoy well, but there's something that he does even better which no one can say otherwise about..
This was actually in question by many 'draft experts,' ironically enough. But DHB has proven extremely loyal to our growing running game with his ability to make crucial blocks and actually hold them.
Since DMC has finally come to his own and started gashing defenses with huge gains, we all know that blocking is the essential part of that.
Wide Receivers must pick up blocks to ensure the halfback's ability to continue to move and DHB does a fantastic job of this.
Once more, break out the highlights of McFadden (and even Bush's) runs and look for No. 85, you can see him holding his block and making sure he gives either man the chance to go the distance.
Heyward-Bey is physical and it shows when we need him for run-blocking either downfield or at the line of scrimmage to help DMC/Bush move.
I remember a scout saying that DHB did have the potential to be a good WR in the NFL, but it would come with time. Whoever that scout was, he was on the money.
Yes, DHB had three drops this year and he did have a lost fumble against KC on the reverse...there is no excuse for that.
But he also had a great (and hard to make) touchdown against Seattle when played in single coverage which shows that he can get it done, but more faith needs to be put in him first.
In the NFL, every chance that is given to a man can make or break his career.
DHB is being given a gold platter to execute and he usually falls short, but I believe in due time he will come to his own just like McFadden did this year..
This upcoming season will be make or break for DHB. With the same QB, hopefully the same offense (as long as Hue is brought back) and same supporting cast...with a few edits to the O-Line, things will be same but different.
With a familiar offensive scheme and (if) Jackson comes back, utilizing DHB as more than a decoy and blocker should be made a priority.
He's got blazing speed, a pretty solid work ethic from reports around training camp, great leaping ability, and impressive size, there's no reason why DHB shouldn't be our Tim Brown.
But then again, potential can only get you so far before you have to actually execute. Can DHB execute and become the receiver that The Raider Nation hopes he can be?
I hope so, many other fans hope so, I bet even Jason Campbell hopes so, so he has another target to hit instead of just Murphy and Miller.
The ball is in his court. He's been said to be a bust, he's been said to be worthless, useless, and completely clueless thus far, but that can change with your work ethic. Let the criticism fuel you.
"It can't be done," they say, Heyward-Bey will NEVER live up to the pick he was made.
Sure it can, just ask Tim Tebow.