Darrius Heyward-Bey became an instant source of consternation when he was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. His performance since he has come into the league has done nothing to dispel the initial negative image of him.
The only word that can be used to describe his rookie year was disappointment. He had 9 catches for 124 yards and one touchdown in 11 games. He had zero catches in four of his first six games as a pro. In each of the two games where he did have catches it was one catch for 18 yards. He had at least one catch in each of his last five games getting two catches twice.
Those are hardly the numbers that scream “future NFL star.” In fact, those numbers only served to reinforce the draft day disappointment that the Raider fans felt when he was picked ahead of Micahel Crabtree.
It didn't help DHB's case that he was greatly outshined by teammate fourth round pick Louis Murphy who had 34 catches for 521 and 4 touchdowns. Murphy had three games with zero catches and four games with four or more catches, and a season high of six catches in the season finale against the Baltimore Ravens.
After the disappointment of his rookie season, DHB won the respect of the coaching staff by being among the first players back to the Alameda facility after the season to get back to work. Through the offseason workouts and training camp he looked to be vastly improved. He had put on several pounds of muscle without losing his trademark speed.
However, once the current season started he hasn't had the breakthrough that had been hoped. He started the season with a single catch game against the Tennessee Titans. In the second game of the season he had the best game of his career to that point when he had six catches for 80 yards. He followed that with thee catches for 49 yards and it seemed like he was getting close to turning the corner start to emerge as a reliable receiver. In the next three games DHB reverted to his 2009 self. He had four catches in the next three games for 21 yards. Five yards a catch is not going to get it done for an NFL wide receiver, nor is it going to win any fan support for a former top ten pick.
As it stands, DHB is currently fourth on the team in catches behind Zach Miller, Murphy, and Darren McFadden who has missed two games with injury. He was supposed to be a deep threat receiver with speed to burn, but he is sitting on an 11.5 yards per reception average.
What is even more disconcerting is his lack of catches when the ball comes his direction. In his rookie year he was targeted on 40 passes only to come down with nine of them. So far this year he has caught 14 of the 37 balls thrown his way. That gives him 23 grabs on 77 opportunities or a 29.8% catch percentage. By comparison, over the same time period tight end Zach Miller had 96 grabs on 145 passes thrown his direction for a 66.2% catch percentage. Fellow second year receiver Murphy is 10 points better than DHB at 39%.
No matter how it is sliced, Darrius Heyward-Bey needs to step up his game to avoid a permanent bust status. Every time a catchable ball goes through his hands, Chris Carter's draft day “Honorable mention, he was honorable mention...” echoes through people's heads.