For the first few years of his career, Darrius Heyward-Bey was a bust. Not only was he a serious reach at #7 in the 2009 Draft, he had a serious case of the dropsies and could not be counted on as a playmaker. However, he had an excellent 2011 season catching passes from Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer, and has shed the bust label to become a viable member of an up-and-coming receiving corps. What can we expect from DHB this season?
Last season: Heyward-Bey caught 64 passes for 975 yards and four touchdowns. He only missed one game due to injury and scored touchdowns in two of the three final games of the season. He emerged as one of the favorite targets for QB Carson Palmer and as the Raider game plan transitioned from run-heavy to pass-heavy, Heyward-Bey's production rose to elite status, finally fulfilling the promise that caused the Raiders to draft him ahead of other receivers such as Jeremy Maclin, Michael Crabtree, and Hakeem Nicks.
Big Question: How will DHB's #2 billing on the depth chart affect his production? This season, Denarius Moore is listed as the team's #1 receiver. However, Heyward-Bey is taller and likely faster. There are not many corners who can run with him at full speed, considering he ran a 4.3 forty at the Combine before he was drafted. If he continues to catch the ball at a high level and leave his dropped-ball habits in the past, he will be very effective as a vertical threat, spreading the field and allowing Moore and Jacoby Ford, who are speedsters in their own rights, to work the middle and the sidelines. The Raiders have far too much speed at receiver for any team to cover man to man, and DHB continuing his strong play is the key to the Raider passing game.
Projection: DHB's career has been on an upward trend since his first season, and as one might expect from a receiver the better his quarterback, the higher his production. DHBs first two quarterbacks were Jamarcus Russell and Jason Campbell (a good signal-caller, but who disdained the deep pass), and consequently his play was lackluster. Once he was paired with an elite QB in Carson Palmer, Heyward-Bey began to put up numbers like a star receiver. The Raiders' new coaching staff, even if they are star-struck by Moore, will be wise to remember what steady and excellent production DHB can amass when made the primary target of a good quarterback. I predict 900 yards receiving and seven touchdowns for Heyward-Bey this season.