Reach to grab WR Heyward-Bey early? He says no

"When I came to Maryland, I was raw. I had to get on the field and work at it. I would do that at the next level," Darrius Heyward-Bey says.
"When I came to Maryland, I was raw. I had to get on the field and work at it. I would do that at the next level," Darrius Heyward-Bey says. (Baltimore Sun photo by Doug Kapustin)
Darrius Heyward-Bey has elite speed, a prototypical NFL body and a fervent desire to excel.

But will that be enough to warrant selection in the top half of Saturday's draft for a wide receiver who disappeared in some Maryland's games, who could make the difficult catch and drop the easy one?

Heyward-Bey is the epitome of risk-reward in this year's draft. The team that selects him could be getting, over the next few years, the league's next big playmaker, a wide-out capable of turning a game on a simple slant pattern.

Or it might join the long line of teams that were so dazzled by 40-yard dash times that it missed the bigger picture and the more critical assessment.

Risk or reward?

"I think he's a big risk" in the top half of the draft, Todd McShay, a draft analyst for ESPN, said Tuesday. "It's not a character issue; it's not an off-field issue. It's a football issue, the fact we've seen a lot of these kinds of receivers.

"I do think he has potential, but I don't think you can force him into a role where he has to be a [No.] 1 or 2 [receiver]. He needs the opportunity to come in and develop ... into a good No. 2 receiver and possibly a No. 1."

Heyward-Bey, 22, does not want to be the next Troy Williamson, the seventh pick in 2005 by the Minnesota Vikings, or Robert Meachem, another speedster taken 27th overall by the New Orleans Saints in 2007.

Both had straight-line speed but not much else. Williamson, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has four touchdown catches in four years. Meachem has three touchdowns (with three starts) in two years.

Heyward-Bey, a native of Silver Spring who played multiple sports at McDonogh, believes he is different.

"They say [I'm a] risk because of my limitations, that I haven't played the position long, and they can say I'm a track guy," he said. "But when I came to Maryland, I was raw. I had to get on the field and work at it. I would do that at the next level. ... I have the work ethic to do it. No matter where I go, the first round or the seventh round, the same work ethic is there."

Heyward-Bey is almost certain to go in the first round, if only on the strength of his 4.3 time in the 40 and work ethic. Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's lead draft analyst, projects him 17th to the New York Jets, while McShay has him going 22nd to the Vikings in his latest mock draft.

Heyward-Bey has also been projected to the Oakland Raiders (seventh pick), Miami Dolphins (25th), Ravens (26th) and Indianapolis Colts (27th).

Not everyone is critical of Heyward-Bey for his modest production at Maryland, where he had 2,089 receiving yards and 13 touchdown grabs in 38 career games.

Kiper has blamed Maryland, in fact, for not getting the ball to Heyward-Bey enough.

"When you have a kid this skilled, you get him the ball," Kiper said. "You force the ball to him. They didn't. And he dropped some catchable balls early. There's some risk- reward there.

"His first year [in the NFL], it will be interesting to see how quickly he transitions. There are some question marks there, but his talent is going to win out."

There is no denying Heyward-Bey's explosive potential. It was evident with the Terps, for whom he had eight plays of 50 or more yards. It is evident on virtually all his game tapes.

Mike Mayock, an NFL Network analyst, alternates between excitement and disappointment when he watches those tapes.

"With the ball in his [hands], he's deadly," Mayock said. "When people look at him, they say, 'You've got something here.' "

But Mayock balanced that with the observation that Heyward-Bey doesn't have "great hands" and doesn't always catch the ball naturally. "If I'm picking a wide receiver in the first round, I want great hands," he said.

Heyward-Bey is near the end of a four-month trial, starting in Phoenix, where he trained for the scouting combine. He worked out in College Park for the Philadelphia Eagles, Ravens, Dolphins and Raiders. He visited the Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams and Vikings.

He says he's at peace with the process and has no expectations about draft day.

"All I want is just to be in the NFL and play for a team," he said. "I don't put a number on it. I don't put a team on it. I know how I performed in three years at Maryland, the combine and my pro day. That's all I can do. From there, it's their decision."

Howard Skall, one of Heyward-Bey's agents, said the 6-foot-3 receiver will take Saturday's call in stride.

"I think he'll be very even-keeled," Skall said. "I think he gets the big picture. Obviously, the higher you go, it affects things from a financial standpoint. The lower you go, you're going to a better team. Any situation he goes to is going to have positives because his dream is going to be realized. He'll be very satisfied with whatever the outcome might be."

about this series
He's 6 feet 3 and weighs 209 pounds. He runs faster than most. He's the big-play wide receiver many teams covet. This occasional series looks at Darrius Heyward-Bey as he prepares for the NFL draft. Today: Heyward-Bey ready to find out his new team.

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