Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey picks up yards after a catch against the Broncos Monday night.
He’s one of the fastest players in the NFL, yet has been one of the slowest to catch on.
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey -- aka “DHB” and “Hey-Bey” – came into the league as the seventh-overall pick of the 2009 draft with a reputation for blinding speed and little else.
Because he was selected so high, much was expected of the former Maryland player who was selected before much higher-rated college stars such as Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech and Jeremy Maclin of Missouri.
Scouts loved his 6-foot-2 frame, his 4.3/40 time and his 38-1/2-inch vertical leap, but his production for the Terps was nothing special.
Then, in his first Raiders minicamp after the draft, Heyward-Bey dropped three consecutive passes and pulled a hamstring – a preview of things to come.
In his first two seasons, DHB caught just 35 passes for two touchdowns, and his drops were more memorable than his receptions.
But this training camp, Heyward-Bey gave indications that perhaps he’s turning a corner in his career.
Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter noted, after visiting camp in August, that Heyward-Bey “might actually make contributions this year,” and noted that Oakland seemed to be using him in more short and intermediate routes than in the past. Wrote Trotter: “Perhaps the change is working because he has less time to think when the ball is in the air.”
If Monday night’s performance is any indication, perhaps Heyward-Bey indeed has made progress.
The third-year receiver was Jason Campbell’s favorite target in a conservative passing game, catching four passes for 44 yards.
This week, Campbell told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group that Heyward-Bey’s “confidence is at an all-time high since I’ve been here.”
“You ought to have seen his practice today,” Campbell said Wednesday. “The way the guy was going after balls and catching them. … It’s exciting to see because he has so much speed, he has great size and he can make a lot of plays.”
In the 23-20 win over the Broncos Monday night, DHB had a critical third-down catch and a couple of other receptions in key situations.
Four catches in one game? At that pace, that’s 64 in 2011, almost twice as many as he’s had since he came into the league. Could Heyward-Bey replicate the turnaround of another Raiders sprinter-wide receiver, Cliff Branch, who caught just 22 passes his first two seasons, then had a 60-catch season in his third?
“You put in the work, things will eventually start paying off,” Heyward-Bey told Corkran. “I’m still working. Monday was just me making plays at the right opportunity to help us win a game, and I am going to continue to do that.”