Aside from suffering a career-ending injury, 2009 No. 7 overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey’s rookie year could not have gone much worse. From being outed by ESPN’s Cris Carter for lacking sure hands to embarrassing practice performances to pathetic on-field production, Heyward-Bey’s first NFL season could conjure up one unbiased word as it relates to the player’s future, and one word only:
Of late, however, Heyward-Bey’s practice efforts, allegedly, have improved. The Raiders’ organization is taking it a step further.
Sunday, the team issued a press release comparing Heyward-Bey to the greatest wide receivers in franchise history. The list includes Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Randy Moss, James Lofton, Fred Biletnikoff, Willie Gault, Cliff Branch, and Lance Alworth.
“Now Darrius Heyward-Bey … is prepping to join that group,” reads the release. “Heyward-Bey has enjoyed a workmanlike offseason where he has put in time and energy to prepare for his second NFL campaign, when many of those whose names mentioned blossomed in professional football competition.
“The list of wide receivers should make any pundit or so-called expert think twice before putting negativity on Heyward-Bey,” continues the release. “No one has come close to the excellence as wide receivers that have worn the Silver and Black. These performers have been the greatest players who have ever played the game.”
As Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune points out, however, Heyward-Bey’s in-practice improvement should be approached with something of an asterisk. The Raiders are currently without their top three cornerbacks, as starters Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson skipped the last voluntary session and nickel back Stanford Routt is out with muscle tightness. The best corner Heyward-Bey faced was probably fifth-round rookie Walter McFadden.