Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Darrius Heyward-Bey: Prove Me Wrong.

Monday morning, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review posted an article regarding the "new Steelers receivers," Lance Moore and, specifically for the sake of this, Darrius Heyward-Bey, "deep on NFL experience." 

In the piece, Kaboly wrote that "what Heyward-Bey offers (even more than his 4.2 speed)" is "experience." 

Granted, he does have experience in the way of 63 starts in 72 career games. He has 169 receptions in those games for a total of 2,380 yards, and he can play both the X- and Z-receiver roles.

“They think I am fast....If that is what they need me to do — to be the deep threat — that's what I will do. If they need me blocking, then sure. If they need me on special teams....I am a team-first guy,” said Heyward-Bey. “....I know a lot of different places to play on the field. Some guys are handcuffed to one spot, where I feel like I am intelligent.” - http://tinyurl.com/lt4lgj4

To my knowledge no one ever questioned his intelligence. For that matter, neither were his heart, his work ethic nor his speed (which, by the way, is actually 4.3/40). 

In a recent blog post, If It Ain't Steel wrote that "speed alone won't get Hermes to Mount Olympus. Nor does it get an NFL player gridiron success."

Remember Clifford Franklin? As Jimmy McGinty said about him: "Great attitude, great desire, and THE fastest son of a b**ch I've ever seen." With the reply to that being, "Yeah, but can he catch?" (Ok, that was from the movie The Replacements. But it's a damn good segue.)

Last season, Football Outsiders had Heyward-Bey with a -24.5 DVOA for the season and a -63 rating - 83 out of 90 eligible receivers - and only a 45% catch rate. - http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/wr

Comparatively, Pro Football Focus had Heyward-Bey graded at -9.4 on passing plays, worst among qualifying receivers. Heyward-Bey so bad that he was pulled at halftime of the November 14 Tennessee Titans game last season. 

Why? His hands. Or lack thereof. 

Digging deeper into Pro Football Focus showed that Heyward-Bey dropped an average of 14.18% of the catchable targets in his final three years with the Oakland Raiders. But he was even worse last year, dropping over 23.5% of catchable targets, five per game average, and ranking next to last of qualifying receivers. 

So "experience", 'intelligence' and speed are all well and good, but they mean nothing if they don't translate into catches. 

Richard Mann and the rest of the Steelers' offensive staff believe they can work with him and make Shinola out of...well, you know. 

Where Heyward-Bey has found success in the past is when he got the ball in space, targeting him on slants, curls, screens, etc...giving him the opportunity to get yards after the catch. 

Can he do that for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Yes, offensive coordinator Todd Haley can certainly design such plays, but Lance Moore and Dri Archer both can perform in those capacities. 

Can he use his speed and fill the role of the X receiver vacated by Mike Wallace? Yes, but that would be akin to breaking up with your girlfriend...and getting with her twin sister. At least in this scenario it would be. Not only that, but that was why Markus Wheaton was drafted last season. 

Can he also defy the odds and move up the depth chart to secure a spot on the final 53-man roster? Yes, it is possible - possible, but not probable. Not probable in our estimation with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, rookie Martavis Bryant, Derek Moye and Justin Brown all in front of him, with the latter of whom having impressed the coaches in OTAs thus far. 

Add Archer as de facto wide receiver and it gets harder and harder to find a spot for him. 

Can he? Yes. Will he? Likely not. The numbers say no. History says no. I say no. But, hey, prove me wrong.