NFL: Dash of caution at wideout: Receivers need more than speed
By GARY MIHOCES
By GARY MIHOCES
Speed thrills when it comes to wide receivers. Darrius Heyward-Bey definitely has it. But football isn't a track meet, and, on draft day, NFL teams must distinguish the receivers from the deceivers.
Skipping his last year of eligibility at the University of Maryland, Heyward-Bey ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.30 seconds) of anybody at any position at the NFL scouting combine in February.
The 6-2, 210-pounder had been timed in the 4.2s at Maryland. There was no reason for him to run the 40 again for scouts at Maryland's pro day.
"Going into Indy, I felt confident," he says. "The goal was to run the fastest 40, and I went out there and did that."
He also knows NFL receivers must run patterns, get off the line against bump-and-run coverage, read defenses on the run and catch the ball. So he has worked to show he's the total package.
"Everybody tells you the game's faster (in the NFL) and everybody's smarter, everybody is good at the next level," he says.
His auditions have included a workout at Maryland for the Baltimore Ravens, who sent quarterback Joe Flacco on an hour's drive to throw to him. Flacco to Heyward-Bey could be the duo of the future for the Ravens, picking 26th in Round 1. That's if they take him and if he's available.
Last year, no wide receivers were picked in the first round. This year, Heyward-Bey is among four to six who could go.
"I think this group is interesting in that they each bring something a little different to the table from the size standpoint; some guys have better hands; there are some short-area quickness guys," says Mike Tannenbaum, general manager of the New York Jets.
A few years from now, based on history, some will be stars and some will be busts. And speed alone assures nothing.
"The list goes on and on of receivers who went high that had great 40 times and didn't pan out," says Mel Kiper Jr., an ESPN draft analyst. "And there are some other receivers that didn't have great 40 times and did: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice."
Heyward-Bey had a 96-yard touchdown reception against Miami (Fla.) as a redshirt freshman. Last season, he set up a TD against Clemson with a 76-yard run on a reverse. Yet he did not have a catch against Clemson. In three seasons, he had 138 catches for 2,089 yards and 13 TDs.
Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree had 41 touchdown catches in two seasons.
Crabtree played in a spread offense. Heyward-Bey played on teams that ran more than passed.
"Here's the conundrum with him: big, fast guy whose track speed translates to the football field. With the ball in his hands, he's deadly," says Mike Mayock, an NFL Network draft analyst.
"But the key is you've got to get the ball in his hands first."
Mayock found it difficult to evaluate Heyward-Bey's hands and route running from game video because Maryland's passing game was "sporadic." Mayock concluded he has "pretty good" but not "great" hands.
"So he's a little bit of a puzzle," Mayock says.
And speed is only one piece.
"Overall, I think speed is very overrated for wide receivers," Kiper says. "Speed is what really throws you. You look too negatively on kids that don't run as well, and you look too positively on kids that do."