Is Darrius Heyward-Bey a Diamond in the Rough or Just Another Raiders Bust?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IMarch 26, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 11: Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey #85 of the Oakland Raiders warms up prior to the start of the Raiders game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 11, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Two weeks after receiving a pink slip from the Oakland Raiders, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is starting to generate some interest on the open market. 

The former top-10 pick, in 2009, is in Indianapolis to visit the Colts on Tuesday, according to Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. If no deal is struck with the Colts, Heyward-Bey will leave for a scheduled visit with the Detroit Lions on Wednesday, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free-Press

Pro Football Talk also reported that the New York Jets have also expressed interest in Heyward-Bey.

The Raiders released Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, mostly for cap reasons after the start of free agency. The cash-strapped organization couldn't afford to pay the money involved in Heyward-Bey's restrictive rookie contract, especially with the kind of production he's given over his first four NFL seasons. 

The parting of ways will give Heyward-Bey a chance to prove in a different NFL city that he's more than just another Raiders draft bust. 

However, is the speed-drenched receiver more responsible for his lack of production than the situation he was thrown into in Oakland?

The numbers certainly point to that answer.

According to Pro Football Focus, Heyward-Bey has dropped 24 of his 164 catchable targets since 2009, or almost 15 percent. That number is far too high and is much more of an indication of Heyward-Bey's receiving skills than any lack of quarterback production. 

The habit has been a consistent one too, as Heyward-Bey has dropped at least 12 percent of his catchable targets in three of his first four years. In 2011, his best professional season, he came in at just under nine percent.

The idea that Heyward-Bey is some kind of elite deep threat is mostly over-exaggerated too. Despite possessing 4.3 speed, Heyward-Bey has just 11 receptions on passes traveling over 20 yards in his four NFL seasons. 

According to PFF, Heyward-Bey has been targeted past 20 yards 75 times over that same span. With just 11 receptions, his catch rate in the deep passing game is just 14.6 percent, another horrendous number that ranks him in the bottom five of the NFL since 2009. 

And while deep passing does require adept quarterback play, other Oakland receivers have fared much better than Heyward-Bey during that same time period. 

Denarius Moore has 14 catches over 51 targets (27.5 percent) traveling over 20 yards over the last two seasons, while Rod Streater caught five of 14 opportunities (35.7) in 2012. In 2010, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy caught nine of 28 deep targets (32.1), while Heyward-Bey hauled in just three of 20 (15.0). 

In his first NFL season, Heyward-Bey caught just one of 13 (7.7), the second-worst mark in the NFL in 2009. 

However, he's had chances to make his mark outside of simply running go routes.

The opportunities to be productive in all aspects of receiving play have been abundant, as Heyward-Bey started 52 of his 56 total games from 2009-12. Yet once again, the stats tell a discouraging story.

In three of his four seasons, Heyward-Bey ranked in the bottom 10 of NFL receivers in yards per route run, which is arguably the best indicator of overall production.

Again, this isn't just a Raiders problem, because players such as Moore, Ford, Murphy and Streater haven't found their names among Heyward-Bey's at the bottom of the stat sheet. 

Even after his one productive season (2011), Heyward-Bey followed it with just 41 catches for 606 yards, despite Carson Palmer's 4,000-yard season. 

These stats point to a simple conclusion: At this point in his career, Heyward-Bey isn't a polished route-runner who can consistently get open within the play. He was presented with ample chances in Oakland to be consistently productive, but the results didn't follow. 

Putting the entire package together paints an ugly picture.

If you agree that Heyward-Bey struggles catching the football and lacks the down-field ability that most characterize him with, you're left with a receiver that runs sloppy routes and needs refinement in-and-out of his breaks to eventually come close to reaching his former draft status. 

Of course, the raw physical skills are tempting. At the 2009 NFL combine, Heyward-Bey ran the 40-yard dash in 4.30 seconds and had a vertical jump of 38.5 inches, while also posting top receiver numbers in the broad jump and shuttle drills. 

But Heyward-Bey was always drafted too highly at No. 7 overall, and it hasn't just been the poor quarterback play in Oakland holding back his NFL career.

The simple reality is that Heyward-Bey has averaged just 37 yards per game over four years, due in large part to his struggles catching the football, winning downfield and running the kind of routes expected of top NFL receivers. 

The Colts, Lions and Jets might see a diamond in the rough in Heyward-Bey, a receiver that just needs to refine his skills to finally blossom. But there is enough evidence over four years to seriously wonder if the former seventh overall pick will ever become much more than a draft bust.


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