Heyward-Bey ready to roll in the NFL

Darrius Heyward-Bey might have been one of the few people who wasn't surprised to hear his name called when the Raiders made their first pick in this year's NFL draft.

Given his background playing in a pro-style offense at Maryland, Heyward-Bey figured he stood as much chance of being the first wide receiver selected as Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin, the two wideouts projected by most to go ahead of Heyward-Bey.

"I'm not the kind of guy who watches TV a lot or listens to mock drafts," Heyward-Bey said. "I knew it was a possibility. I feel like I had the qualities to be the best receiver in the class. I know people look at the stats and everything, but just playing in the pro-style offense and having the skills and being able to be taught and listen and work hard, I felt like I was definitely at the top.

"Going ahead of those guys, it's an honor just to be the first (wide receiver) taken. I don't know why I moved ahead of those guys but definitely the Raiders saw something in me."

In the months leading up to the draft Heyward-Bey was almost an afterthought when it came to the wide receivers class.

Crabtree, the phenom out of Texas Tech who remained high on most draft boards despite having skipped the Scouting Combine due to a fracture foot, seemed to be the consensus No. 1 receiver, just ahead of Maclin, the wideout from Missouri. The duo had a combined 199 catches, 2, 425 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2008.

Yet it is Heyward-Bey, who caught 42 passes for 609 yards and five touchdowns, who Al Davis and head coach Tom Cable selected to round out what the Raiders hope will be their offense of the future.
The move might have been met with some criticism but it's quite possible Davis has pulled another fast one on his fellow NFL owners. After all, think of the possibilities. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, whose powerful arm never did have a consistent wide receiver target last year, lofting a smooth-as-silk 60-yard throw into the waiting hands of a streaking Heyward-Bey, who not only ran the fastest 40 time at the Scouting Combine but was timed at under 4.3 on some clocks.

With Zach Miller, who in two years has already shown enough promise to be considered one of the best young tight ends in the league, and the three-pronged running back attack of Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, the Raiders without doubt have the potential to be an explosive offense not just in 2009 but for years to come.

Heyward-Bey is expected to be the gemstone of that offense, a point driven home when one considers the Raiders' history. Prior to using the seventh overall pick to grab the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, Davis hadn't selected a wide receiver with his first-round pick since 1988 when he grabbed a certain Heisman Trophy-winning All-American from Notre Dame, Tim Brown.

Only two other times has Davis agreed to use his first pick on a receiver: Mike Siani in 1972 and Jessie Hester in 1985, both of whom had some productive years wearing the silver and black but never fully lived up to the expectations that come with being a first-rounder.

Thus the decision to grab Heyward-Bey, who originally began playing football in high school simply to make friends, is as critical a personnel decision as Davis has made in some time.

What set Heyward-Bey above Crabtree and Maclin?

Speed is the easiest and most obvious starting point. The kid can flat-out fly. But there is more to it than just that.

"He's the only (receiver in the draft) that came out of a true pro-style system," Cable said. "Everyone else was in a spread system. So his learning curve is much, much shorter than those other guys. Then you've got that size, that speed and his ability to go get it. The thing that jumps out at you, this is the one guy at the Combine who at the 30-yard mark actually changed gears. There was a whole other warp speed, if you will."

Read the complete story on Darrius Heyward-Bey and the rest of the Raiders draft picks in the May issue of Silver and Black Illustrated.

Discuss this story and more in the Legends Lodge.

Michael Wagaman has been covering the Raiders since 1996 and the NFL since 1989.

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