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Anatomy of a WR – Darrius Heyward-Bey

By G.Stryker
www.SteelerNation.com


Darrius Heyward-Bey
had average to good receiving statistics at the University of Maryland. In 3 years he topped 700 yards one season and topped 600 all 3 seasons he played. He never had more than 5 touchdowns a season and he entered the draft a year early. He never received any full Conference awards, but did get an honorable mention his Junior year. He had good numbers at the combine in all of his measurables, but he led all combine players with the fastest 40 yard dash that season at 4.30 seconds. His size was also coveted being 6’2” and 210 lbs. So coveted in fact, that the Raiders took him with the 7th pick. His size to speed ratio was too much for them to pass up, and he was chosen far earlier than many draft analysts projected him.

As a professional, his numbers have not lived up to his draft status. His yearly highs for receptions is 64, yards is 975, and touchdowns is 5 which are respectable, but his yearly average for those same numbers are 25 receptions, 355 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Unlike most underperforming first round wide receivers, who would have been out of the league after 4 seasons, DHB showed he is committed to football by doing whatever is asked of him. Now entering his 9th season, his ego did not derail his career by being asked to play special teams or to be a 3rd, 4th, or 5th receiver. Instead, he strove to be the best at whatever he was asked to do. As a gunner, with his speed and determination, he stands out making plays in the kick and punt coverage teams. As a receiver, he has shown he can make plays with his hands and legs, catching or running the football.

Let’s take a look at this former 1st round phenom to see how he approaches the ball in the air. I am selecting his Steeler highlights, as he is no longer the featured receiver, and it shows what he’s doing with limited reps:

0:23 Nice arm extension and hand positioning to catch the ball. Used a quick snatching motion, when he didn’t really have to, but did an excellent job of getting both thumbs together to secure a nice hands catch.

0:32 Makes a 3 point body trap with his 2 hands and chest. Due to the ball being thrown to the back of the end zone, this was probably the best type of catch selection. If he turned to jump and high point the ball, his momentum could have carried him out of the endzone. His elbows are a little outside of his body frame, which is the only negative I see here (though I am nit-picking a bit).

0:43 Chose to body catch here, when the right move would have been to put his hands in front of him, thumbs together to secure the ball in front of him. In this instance, he misplays the ball slightly with his body, and the ball comes to his left arm. His arms are a little away from his body, but he traps the ball with his left arm and body. The ball was not touched by the defender, so this was just poor catching mechanics. It takes him 3 steps to secure the football before barely getting possession before falling out of bounds. Catching with his hands here, would have made replay unnecessary to determine possession. He made this catch more difficult than it needed to be.

1:03 Another slightly awkward catch. His speed combined with the ball being slightly underthrown, carried the ball too close to his body for a basket catch. He 3 point traps it with his hands and gut, and seems to quickly secure it. His elbows are way outside of his frame here which would have made a gaping hole on a better throw.

1:12 Has nice hand positioning on the basket catch, pinkies together and both palms on the ball. Immediately pulls the ball into his chest to secure it. I’m starting to see a trend with his elbows not being in to help with the catch. The replay from the reverse angle shows if you don’t have your elbows in, the ball has a chance of squirting right down your body and on the ground. It started to squirt in this replay, but his hand strength kept it from moving past his gut.

1:30 Basketish catch. His right hand is in perfect position, palm up, his left hand is a little off, with the back side of his hand facing away from the football. It looked like he misjudged the ball slightly. When I slowed it down, he nearly completes the catch one handed and has to use his other hand to help trap and secure it against his body. Really interesting mechanics on this catch, and looks to be a big reason why a first rounder was never really a true #1 receiver in the league.

1:42 Wide open and chose to 3 point trap with his chest and hands instead of placing his hands out front, palms facing the ball to secure the catch in front of him. Catching a football is a percentage game. You have a much better chance to secure the catch using your hands vs using your body. Receivers that rely on body catches tend to drop more balls than hands catching receivers.

1:54 Perfect catch. Ball thrown high, he climbs the ladder to the apex of his catch radius, both palms on the ball, thumbs in, catch is immediate and never in doubt. Excellent showing of his athleticism here. Slight right hand reposition on the reverse angle replay, when he secures the ball at full extension.

Analysis:
The first thing that jumps out to me is his speed. Darrius has speed to burn, and uses his speed well to get open. I do see a couple things that have limited him in being a consistent receiving threat. His hand placement is not true, and not what I’d expect from the 7th pick in a draft. He relies on his body a bit too much. He also lets his elbows wander outside of his frame, which changes the angle of his hands to catch the ball cleanly, over his shoulder.

What I observe is the receiving mechanics that project to dropping footballs. I went back and checked his drop numbers. His rookie season, he dropped 6 balls. That is high for a 1000 yard receiver, and DHB only managed 9 receptions that year. He did better his second season with 3 drops to 26 receptions, but still not a great drop percentage. His next three years he had 6, 5, and 6 drops, setting the tone that his hands are very inconsistent. As a Steeler, he has enjoyed his best catch to drop ratio. In 3 seasons he has 30 catches to go with 2 drops, yet there is still a stigma of his hands being a problem when being targeted on throws. At this point in his career, I don’t see him fixing these bad habits, which by now, have become routine. He is still fast and effective, you just have to expect him to not be perfect when making plays, while still giving his team the chance to break any play for a touchdown.

Darrius Heyward-Bey is a great option as a 4th, 5th, or 6th receiver, paired with his outstanding special teams play, he is a great asset to any team. If he makes the team, it will be because of his outstanding special teams ability. A younger receiver not only has to show that they are more of a playmaker catching the ball, but they must show that they can help some way on special teams to unseat Darrius.

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