Originally written September 22, 2012 on Thoughts from the Dark Side:
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Darrius Heyward-Bey, the much maligned 7th overall pick from 2009 has been a conundrum for most of his 3 years in the Silver & Black. A likely first or high second round pick in 2009 even had Davis not reached for him with a top 10 selection, would likely still be a disappointment even if falling into the early second round based solely upon his numbers. Heyward-Bey has struggled with being a “hands” receiver for most of his time in Oakland and, for all of his physical gifts – speed, size, a large body frame – he has a hard time coming down with difficult receptions and winning one on one matchups with defensive backs. Heyward-Bey has shown that he’s at his best when he can receive the ball closer to the line of scrimmage and use his speed and size to gain yards after the catch (YAC). However for all of that, Heyward-Bey or DHB as he’s often called, has shown great work ethic, humility and a willingness to learn and has continued to grow each season he’s been with the Raiders culminating in a season that was within sight of 1000 yards receiving last year. Many, myself included, thought that DHB’s skill-set would mesh well with Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s style of throwing higher percentage passes and looking to get YAC. Much of the throws that Knapp favors are shorter passes where the receiver can get positive yardage and look to make a first down. While the season is still young, early returns are not promising.  Heyward-Bey has achieved, through two complete games in which he was the starter, to catch only 7 balls for a total of 84 yards, stats that many receivers beat in one game.  In fact, last week Brian Hartline alone caught 9 balls for 111 yards versus the Raiders. Heyward-Bey’s catches and yardage is currently averaging an underwhelming 3.5 catches per game for an average of 42 yards per game which projects to 56 receptions for a mere 672 yards over the course of the season. DHB was drafted as a deep threat receiver but so far this season he’s had only one reception over 20 yards – and it was only a 21 yard reception.  His other six have been 3 between 10 and 20 yards and 3 below 10 yards.  While much of the passing game’s issues are not his fault he hasn’t able to do much to help, either. What’s more, QB Carson Palmer doesn’t appear to trust DHB in critical situations as much as other options – no surprising considering Heyward-Bey’s tendency to drop catchable passes.  In the Raiders numerous drives over the last two games, Palmer has looked to DHB only 3 times on a 3rd down.  The Raiders converted none of those 3 downs with two resulting in incompletions and one resulting in a 5 yard completion on a 3rd & 7 play. It seems that, when push comes to shove Palmer would rather look to sure handed Derek Hagan, explosive Denarius Moore or safety outlets Darren McFadden and Brandon Myers over DHB. To be fair, Palmer did look to DHB on a 4th down conversion that resulted in an in completion but drew a pass interference penalty that allowed the Raiders a first down. I have no great answer on DHB. I don’t know why he disappears for long stretches in games or why Palmer seems to not look his way consistently.  Heyward-Bey has been targeted 13 times and has caught 7 of those, so almost half the balls that come his way do not get received. The bottom line is that regardless of the reasons the team needs DHB to step up on the outside and come down with the balls that are thrown to him.  Until that happens the Raiders passing offense will continue to be uneven and, if opponents do not respect the passing game, the run game will also suffer. What do you think? For more Raiders news and analysis, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews
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