(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
First, let us be clear. This is not the "whopper,” Jim Irsay spoke of. At least, we don’t believe it is. A little over a week ago, the owner had Colts fans all speculating, and dreaming about whom the team was trying to sign as they worked on a mega deal to land a “whopper” at wide receiver. It was not unlike Christmas Eve, except Santa never came. The whopper deal never happened, and Irsay shifted gears to sign a backup quarterback instead (which he followed with the ‘soft pillow’ tweet). Thus, a vacancy remains at wide receiver.
This is the time in free agency to find players looking to sign one-year contracts and rebuild their careers or take one more shot at their dream. It’s the dollar menu of free agency, where teams can find decent players at a low cost. Enter, the Whopper Jr., better known as Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey, of course, would be the replacement for the departed Donnie Avery, who was, himself, a player looking to rebuild his career.
The problem is, despite his size and speed; it is difficult to say what the Colts will be getting. A marginal improvement? A horrid, drive-killing pass dropper? A misunderstood star? Based on the reaction to yesterday’s news of his scheduled visit to Indy, Colts Nation is split over Heyward-Bey. Thus, we’re going look at Heyward-Bey’s career, followed by the cases for and against signing the four-year NFL veteran.
(Update: Heyward-Bey is leaving Indianapolis without a contract and visiting the Lions today, according to the Detroit Free Press)
Whopper Jr.: The Backstory
Darrius Heyward-Bey (6-2, 216 pounds) was a star track athlete in high school and later joined the football team to make friends, according to his 2009 NFL Combine report. He ended up lettering as a wide receiver and an outside linebacker and went on to play football at the University of Maryland.
The offense Heyward-Bey played on in Maryland was a train wreck of inconsistency. Nevertheless, he was rated the third best wide receiver in the 2009 NFL Draft, with great size and strength, raw talent, and a blazing 4.3-second 40 time. The Oakland Raiders, ever in love with measurables, selected him with the 7th overall pick, passing over both Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. While Crabtree held out, and Maclin enjoyed a solid rookie season, Heyward-Bey withered under pressure and nagging injuries, catching just 9 passes on 40 targets.
By 2011 however, Heyward-Bey enjoyed the best, most productive season of his tumultuous career, hauling in 64 passes on 115 targets (55.6%) for 975 yards and 4 touchdowns in then-coach Hugh Jackson’s offense. He wasn’t ultra-consistent and still hadn’t become the elite receiver his team expected when they drafted him so highly, but he was finally thriving and being productive.
Heyward-Bey’s stats dropped off significantly under new coach Dennis Allen last season. He was knocked unconscious and hospitalized on September 23rd from an illegal hit from Steelers Safety Ryan Mundy. He finished the season with just 41 catches on 80 targets (51%) for 606 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The Case for Signing Heyward-Bey
Ryan Grigson and the Colts’ front are in serious need a wide receiver. In all likelihood, they will draft one. However, signing a mid to lower tier veteran to a small, “dollar menu” contract makes sense here. He can compete for playing time with Levon Brazill, one or more rookies, and even Graff Whalen, if he is healthy. Adding Heyward-Bey to the mix just increases the chance of finding a legitimate second or third receiver for 2013.
They will be vying to replace boom-or-bust speedster Donnie Avery, who struggled with drops all year but still managed to do enough to land a big contract with Kansas City. Like Avery, Darrius Heyward-Bey can line up on the outside and use his pure speed to get open, allowing Hilton or Wayne to work the slot. His size should help him snag more passes in traffic and over the middle than Avery, and those types of catches will be paramount in Pep Hamilton’s West Coast offense, which figures to be rife with horizontal routes.
Heyward-Bey wasn’t stellar in 2012, but he fared better than the man he could replace, ranking 63rd among receivers and posting a -6% DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Donnie Avery’s DVOA was -18.9%, helping him rank 82nd among NFL receivers. Heyward-Bey’s drop off year represented a significant gain over the best season of Donnie Avery’s career. And now, he will have the chance to play with the very talented Andrew Luck throwing passes his way.
Heyward-Bey looked tentative at times last year after taking that brutal hit that rendered him unconscious back in September. If he can get back to playing at or slightly above his 2011 level, he will be an improvement over his predecessor, and he can keep the spot warm until the Colts find their future number one receiver.
The Case against Signing Heyward-Bey
Some people are expecting this guy to come in and become a star. That is no fairer to him than it was for Oakland to harbor such lofty expectations. He just doesn’t possess that kind of potential. NFL players make the biggest leap of their careers between years one and two. If a player isn’t a difference maker by year three, he is either a backup or just another guy looking for a job. At 26, a run-of-the-mill player isn’t going to become suddenly great at football.
Sure, his DVOA was better than Avery’s was, but a whole slew of receivers had a better DVOA than the otherwise likeable Avery. Heyward-Bey’s catch rate last year was 51%, a drop off from 2011 (55.6%) and 10% less than his quarterback’s completion percentage. Avery’s catch rate was only 48%, but that was only 6% below Andrew Luck’s completion percentage. Even for a downfield threat, a receiver with a catch rate 10% below his quarterback’s completion percentage appears to be holding his offense back.
He had better find a way to improve, or Heyward-Bey stands a chance of actually being a downgrade from Donnie Avery. And the Colts have no time for that.
Fans expecting Darrius Hayward-Bey to become a breakout star at 26 years old will be sorely disappointed. That is not fair to the player, and was probably part of his undoing in Oakland. If such expectations were realistic, someone would have signed him already. For writing him off as a big, pass-dropping, butter-fingered failure, there is a chance of some self-loathing vindication. No fan truly likes being right about that, right?
The truth is this is not an ideal situation; signing a wide receiver who has struggled for most of his career for the second consecutive year. However, it could end up being a decent signing, which is all one can ask for this late in free agency.
While Heyward-Bey’s shot with the Colts could go either way, a realistic hope would be for him to be a solid contributor and slight improvement over Donnie Avery. It would be fair to hope for similar yardage output to Avery, with a lower ypc (because of the shorter West Coast routes) and higher catch rate. If he does not achieve a better catch rate than Avery does, it would be a disappointing signing.
Meanwhile, the team needs to be either developing or searching for their next top wide receiver, either through the draft or a mystery deal like the one Mr. Irsay teased us all about last week. If they draft a receiver who beats out Heyward-Bey, Brazill, and Whalen, all bets are off. Grigson should receive a medal, and Heyward-Bey might wish he’d signed somewhere he could get more playing time.
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If we need a WR, which we do, the sooner you draft him the better. People think we can get a 'good' one later, but it typically doesn't happen. Top 10 in yards last season?
7 were first round picks
1 was second round pick
1 was fourth round pick
1 undrafted (Welker)
#22 pick was Demaryious Thomas, #24 was Dez Bryant, #27 was Roddy WHite, #30 was Reggie Wayne.
Shows to me if we are hoping to replace Reggie as a number one soon, we need round 1 production.
Wopper Jr. aka DHB would be the good "out of left field" FA WR option that I thought Grigson would attempt if Avery did not return.
Folks think that there will be a viable BPA WR option available at #24 pick. I disagree or I am just not nearly as optimistic. I think Patterson and Hopkins may be gone by then. Allen, if his Pro day goes well, maybe too. Austin is simply too similar to Hilton, who we got last year at #92, perhaps not as good, to take at #24 IMHO. Hunter coming off a ACL a year ago is a gamble.
Word is there are viable WRs in the later rounds that could be developed. I say if no BPA WR or only Austin is available at #24, consider trading down and signing a Pass Rusher (OLB Marcus Hunt?) along picking up a later round pick for a extra developmental WR.
Anyway, in my mind, signing DHB to a one year "born again" opportunity contract makes lots of sense.
Waterworld. Remember the movie that everyone loved to hate because it cost $160M to make and raked in... I don't know, $40M? Maybe it even broke even, but it's the butt of jokes because it was supposed to change the very fabric of the universe (and cost enough at the time) but did not. Plus Costner can't act, but looked cool in salmon skin pants (I am not making this up). Hey, I only spent $7.50 and for my money, I liked it quite a bit. Dennis Hopper was a riot. DHB is like Waterworld--a colossal disaster to some, a bit below average to others. Judge him based on a snapshot taken in 2012, and he's a meh 2nd/3rd receiver. At $2M a year, I can live with that. With some consistency at QB, he might be good. If you view him at SOMEONE ELSE's cost, a #7 pick, he's an incredible waste. But he'd be a reasonable add for the 2013 Colts at the right price. I wouldn't expect too much, but I won't storm Grigson's house with pitchforks and torches, either. ("Mob suppies! Get your angry mob supplies here!" Bonus points for whoever names the movie.) If they DO sign him and he DOES catch on, I would love to see the nickname Whopper Jr. stick. Very funny.
The way I see it is sign him for one year and see how he plays in Colts offense. In the same time I think the Colts should sign a wide receiver in the first round if Keenan Allen or DeAndre Hopkins are as good as people say they are. I mentioned those too because of the general opinion that they may be available at #24 and they are WRs with good hands and good route running ability. I. like many other I value those qualities over above the average speed.
I don't know, I would much rather Colt try to sign a guy that is actually good at catching the ball. They just don't need more speed guys. They need a guy who can go over the middle and catch in traffic and a guy who catches with his body just isn't going to do that.
At this point I don't think they will find one and I'm hoping Allen and Fleener can turn into such guys. Year two was when the big jump happens right?
In listening to Ryan Grigson's with mad dog last night, he mentioned we were not interested in Welker because he was more of a 'slot' receiver and he said they are easier to come by than big edge receiver so he wouldn't invest much in FA for a slot guy. This was in reference to if the Colts had had an interest in Welker after his release. Was easy to read between the lines that he wanted someone more the ilk DHB. And not many options out there.
I think we desperately need a WR. Just Wayne and Hilton as proven guys will not strike the fear in defenses. People say we may have something in Brazill and Whalen (I know he was hurt) but we kept running Avery out there. Not convinced until they step up and perform. Almost every team has guys they 'like', but seldom come through.
Although it's said Colts Nation is 'split', hitting multiple boards last night, and looking here today, I've rarely seen anyone against the possible signing. Only no factor seems to be depending on $'s.
I'm all for the signing. The Raiders have been terrible on offense, and DHB has gone through multiple QB's and a couple dif offensive systems. PLUS, he only had six dropped passes last year. Shows to me his numbers were down based on Oakland not getting him the ball.
I'm down for it as long as he's not more expensive than Avery was for KC. Not that I'm advocating any type of Avery resigning or anything, but I think the need for receiver might be overstated to a certain extent given we were struggling to find snaps for Brazill last year.
Thank you Marcus! (With all the debate over Walden I was wondering when DHB was going to come up.)
Since I feel that finding a true outside the lines Wide Receiver is the Colts #1 need, I think that if the Colts can sign DHB to something that has very little guaranteed money after the first year, he would be well worth the risk.
I LOVE Reggie, but at this point of his career, he is nothing more than a move him around the formattion, possession type guy. I hope Hilton surprises me and becomes a star, but I don't believe he has #1 receiver talent. I think Fleener will have a great sophmore season, and with Allen that will give the Colts two budding stars at tight end. So, alll the movre reason to get a big, fast, outside the numbers guy.
Of next 30 (round out top 40) in yards.
8 more 1st round
3 2nd round
6 3rd round (TY Hilton)
4 4th round
1 5th round
1 6th round
2 7th round
If there's a decent wideout pick at #24, I'd like for folks to identify him. In my opinion (keep in mind my mea culpa regarding a certain Hall of Fame QB below), the first round graded receivers are't worth a first round pick.
I'd go pure BPA for #24. For one, there are still enough areas that could use players outside of QB (and kicker/punter, but who the hell picks one of those in the first round... er, besides the Raiders... and the Jags... two teams you *don't* want to emulate). Just about every position could at minimum use depth, and the deepest areas of the draft this year - defensive linemen, offensive tackles - are areas where the Colts can use help (defensive starter, offensive depth behind and starting competition for Castonzo and Cherilus... yes, O-line is *less* of a need due to FA, but it still would benefit from a good draft pickup). So waiting to see who's there will likely net Indy someone they can use, and all without maneuvering or anything special beyond normal scouting.
Now, to actually post on the topic of this thread: DHB. If he's not too expensive, sure. And also if any contract he's willing to sign didn't have long term cap implications; just 'cause the Colts have money <i>now</i> doesn't mean you spend recklessly for the future. Anyway, my point is that it wouldn't be a bad pickup if it was of good value. But if the Lions outbid Indy, I'd just snap my fingers and go "Darn!..." He's not worth pursing too hard. Indy can get along fine with 2-TE sets if it really has to.
Anyway, how would DHB grade alongside Garçon? At least PG had upside when he was here, but DHB is a "what you see is what you get" pickup. And what we see isn't truly spectacular outside of his speed. Plus, if we're going to be running a West Coast next year, he may not even be a proper fit. None of that adds up to "Must Sign Him".
@thellamajockey Let's hope one of those bigger receivers has a so-so pro day and falls to the Colts. I don't want Austin either. We already have Hilton
@Bobman1 Where did you find a theater to pay 7.50 for water world? Was it a drive in theater? I think tickets were like 3-4 bucks when that movie came out. I know I remember paying 7-8 bucks for Blair Witch Project and that came out 4-5 years later.
@Bobman1 I liked your Water World analogy very much. Epic, as the kids say. I think being the 7th pick and playing with a giant contract was a big part of his problem in Oakland, beside the fact it was the Oakland Raiders. The other movie line, I googled it thinking it was from a Mel Brooks movie. I was way off. I won't spoil it for anyone
@codrutc Yeah, if DHB signs and plays well, great. Either way, I hope they find one who's gonna be a special player in the draft.
@hankster Exactly this is why I hope Keenan Allen falls to us in the draft, he fits that profile to totally.
We could have Allen and Allen for years to come.
@hankster But who is available? And by "more" speed guys, you're implying that our WR corps has one ... or two?
I'm not disagreeing with you - would love a 'better' signing, but I wouldn't *hate* DHB. If the money is right.
@hankster That's right. Allen was amazing last year, broke Dilger's rookie record. His catch rate was like 14% higher than Luck's completion rate, and he just flat-out overpowered people when he had to block. He's a guy who can really help an offense.
I'm revved up about Fleener too. He's like Heyward-Bey at TE; all the physical tools to be great. This year, I think he'll benefit greatly from the new offense.
I'm okay with DHB because he is built like a possession receiver but has the speed to make a safety nervous. But I definitely favor bigger receivers. If they nabbed a possession guy who isn't as exciting of a signing, you wouldn't see me complain.
@cwjwl I don't understand all the excitement over Whalen. Maybe he will prove me wrong. Meanwhile, I agree. They need another receiver. Unfortunately, DHB's agent knows that, and he's trying to get some competition for his services. I hope it doesn't drive the price up too much.
@cwjwl That drop number is correct, at least according to PFF, he had 6 drops in 47 catchable targets, a drop rate of 12.77, which was still in the bottom half of the league but not outrageous by any stretch. Hilton and Avery both had drop rates of 16.77, worst in the NFL, though like I said previously, I think some of that should be understood as degree of difficulty being deep threats in Arians' vertical offense (though they both had their share of easy drops too).
@cwjwl really only six? I thought he dropped more than that. Hmmmm.
@Payton I have more faith in Brazill than Whalen. I think even if the Colts sign DHB, Brazill could push him for playing time. He seems like more a slot guy to me, though. What do you think?
@DougEngland I agree. I also agree with the people saying Hilton has #2 receiver talent. However, I think he's a little small to play on the outside. Pagano even said so last year.
Fleener should be able to take advantage of the system, and his being a 6' 6" ATHLETE. I'm excited about Allen, too. I keep hyping his 68% catch rate. Pretty damn good, considering Luck's completion % last year.
@AJ_ I already gave names on this post of WR's that would be available that would fit perfectly in our system, and who have potential to be stars in the league. As far as those early areas, OL is a stregnth but that is because it is top heavy, all of the OG and OT that are worthy of being drafted in that range will be gone by the time we pick, small chance a 3-4 OLB will be the BPA unless one falls bad, other guys that play 3-4 OLB would be a reach at that point, there should be good players along the DL when we pick as well as safety, but the only position that I see us being able to take in the draft that will have an immediate impact will be WR.
Also not sure where you get the idea that WR's with 1st round grades should not go in the 1st round, they should not go early in the first round but late in there first round is right about where they should be.
Guys that could be there and how I rank them for our system:
Patterson Raw, Hunter durability questions, Hopkins needs to get stronger, Allen durability issues.
I would only question taking Hunter though the others I am more than fine with, if I were you I would youtube them and check out some tape.
@MarcusDugan I won't spoil it either. But I will have to turn in my fandom card for it, seeing as how I totally missed the reference. :(
@matt_has True. DHB would be alright. As for speed guys it's my understanding that Brazil and Hilton are more speed players (i.e. they run past people rather make catches in traffic) not possession players. I've only seen DHB play a couple of time, but he didn't really seem strong enough to fight through the DB or LB to get the ball. Neither is he known as a good rout runner. He does have size though, so maybe he can be coached up.
I'm just not holding my breath. Rather I hope that Pep goes with what we have and leans heavily on Allen and Fleener who both looked pretty good last year.
@MarcusDugan I kept on telling everyone, Allen was a steal. But everyone kept on telling me he was too "small" (*snort*) and too slow.
Yeah, I know he's not going to put up Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzales 40 times, but who the bleep cares? He can block like a mutha and can catch downfield. Okay, so he's a bit pokey getting yards after the catch, but he's still gotta be brought *down*.
Ps. I gotta trumpet that call, BTW, because I got so many of them wrong in the past. Like this skinny quarterback from Tennessee back in '98... :(
@MarcusDugan I agree on the price. I was hoping he's be signed and giving a sound bite about how he loves Indy today. Instead he is heading to Detroit. To me, Avery money + a tad is worth it, and I think our cap is getting limited anyway. Maybe backloaded deal best we could do.
@hankster I scowered the net looking it up, and that's what I found. Will try to find the link later and post.
@MarcusDugan I do too, and I Brazill and DHB lining up in the slot or outside respectively. However that pushes back on another aspect, with Reggie lining up in the slot Brazill is already struggling for time. Unless Reggie goes back to the outside, DHB or another player makes some sense. I'm sure Brazill can pick up some reps outside though, as size isn't everything.
@MarcusDugan @DougEngland Yeah, I'm really hoping for big things from Allen. I figure he could turn into Heath Miller (Steelers TE) type and excel at pretty much everything. Regardless of who the Colt's bring in at receiver, it seems to me that the team's best chance of success is through those two young TEs.
@MarcusDugan @DougEngland Allen and Fleener are a couple of reasons why I'm not quite as concerned about getting another WR versus other positions of need (Secondary and Pass-rusher, IMO). I hope that Fleener can look more like the version of himself in the Week 1 Bears game. Allen really impressed me. He is deceptively athletic, has good hands, and is pretty strong. I think the Colts certainly need a WR. I just see other needs as more pressing.
@MarcusDugan I think Bobman must be a parent,because I think it is from "Beauty and the Beast".
@DougEngland @smonroe @AJ_ Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles were my guesses. But my google search revealed: Wallace and Grommet: The Curse of the Ware Rabbit. Maybe is Gould watch young Frankenstein again. I wonder if they borrowed that line from Mel Brooks.
@AJ_ @MarcusDugan I thought Young Frankenstein, but was wrong too. Bobman, good analogy. If anyone is familiar with production contracts there's NRE - non recurring expenses. We don't have to pay for DHBs if we sign him. That's a good value.
Not only that (" deep threats in a vertical offense") but with the porous OL, Luck was often throwing imperfect balls. I assume his accuracy will improve--think how slight the error has to be on the throwing end to make a ball 25 yards downfield off target by 2 feet, yet's the difference between a sweet catchable ball and a ball that is really a stretch (literally). How many passes did Luck make from one foot, sideways, bent double, wearing a safety blitz like it was a windbreaker? If we see the improvements we all expect--better pro, sophomore year surge at QB and WR/TE, we'll see completion percentages and catch rates climb dramatically. (thros in more short/mid passes and luck's comp % should leap by 10 pts. DHB should be part of that trend of improvement if he joins, If not, that's okay, too.
@cwjwl @hankster @matt_has I think the drop rate for Hilton and Avery has to be put a little bit in perspective though. They were deep threats in a vertical offense, the degree of difficulty on some of those drops was a lot higher than it would be for a lot of the guys lower on that drop rate list. I'm not sure it's necessarily indicative of players with bad hands. DHB's drop rate was about the same as Victor Cruz last season (6 drops on 47 catchable targets according to PFF).
@cwjwl My understanding is we have more space than Detroit right now, but that doesn't mean much, now that he's left town without a contract.
@cwjwl oh, I trust you. I'm just mentally revising my opinion of DHB slightly.
@Payton Yeah, from our outside points of view, it looks as though they are loaded up with slot guys right now.