You read that right. Darrius Heyward-Bey the much maligned first-round draft pick two seasons ago will the be Raiders breakout player.
For the record, I think Matt Shaughnessy is going to have a monster year, but he was good last year. He had seven sacks. He’s hardly unknown to the Raider Nation even if he isn’t a household name around the NFL yet.
Since my primary audience is the Raider Nation, I think is only appropriate to select Heyward-Bey.
Why Darrius Heyward-Bey? What have I seen that makes me think Heyward-Bey will have a breakout season?
Heyward-Bey enters his third season. The theory for a long time was that receivers breakout in their third season. Two years ago Football Outsiders examined this theory. The results were that receives were equally likely to breakout in their second, third and even fourth year.
As raw as Heyward-Bey was entering the league, it only makes sense that he would take some time to develop. Given he didn’t breakout in his second year, Heyward-Bey still has two seasons to do so. It’s possible he never breaks out, but I’ll take a rough 1/3 shot that he does this season.
In addition to this being a prime year for Heyward-Bey, the Raiders brought in offensive coordinator Al Saunders. Saunders is known for his ability to develop receivers. It has been said Raiders receivers need to have great chemistry with their quarterback to be successful in a Saunders offense. Lucky for the Raiders the receivers spent a few weeks with Jason Campbell during the lockout.
Why is it whenever a player is asked for a breakout player they say Darrius Heyward-Bey? Aside from all the wise cracks about it being written into their contracts, what are the players seeing?
What the Raiders are likely seeing is Heyward-Bey’s speed and size put to good use in practice and away from the critical eyes of the media. Give Heyward-Bey credit, he works hard. Other players see how much work Heyward-Bey puts in and his raw talent at practice and make a guess.
You either have great hands or you don’t. Heyward-Bey will never be a real natural hands catcher, but he has shown he is able to do it at times. He’s not a perfect receiver, but that does not mean he is unable to be a productive receiver.
The Raiders may also be changing how they use Heyward-Bey. Instead of having him run deep so much he may be incorporated into the short and intermediate passing game. This gives him less time to think and he can rely more on his instincts.
Expect at least a doubling of Heyward-Bey’s production this season, if not more.
For the first time in his career everything might be going for Heyward-Bey. Stability at quarterback, an offensive coordinator known for developing receivers and an offense that is desperately trying to establish their passing identity.