McDon­ald

The Mercury News - - Sports -

at Mary­land with mod­est sta­tis­tics. But Hey­ward-Bey was the best size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and speed (4.3 in the 40-yard dash) com­bi­na­tion of the draft, sure to catch Davis’ eye, McCloughan said.

Sure enough, when the Raiders came up at No. 7 over­all, Hey­ward-Bey was the first re­ceiver off the board. McCloughan took Crab­tree at No. 10, Ma­clin went to the Philadel­phia Ea­gles at No. 19, and Harvin, who had some sup­port in the Raiders draft room, went No. 22 to Min­nesota.

Nearly a decade later, the only play­ers among the 34 drafted re­ceivers still draw­ing an NFL pay­check other than Hey­ward-Bey are Crab­tree (Ravens), Mike Wal­lace (a third-round pick on in­jured re­serve with the Ea­gles) and Ju­lian Edel­man (an op­tion quar­ter­back and sev­enth-round pick out of Kent State by New

Eng­land).

The Raiders learned quickly that Hey­ward-Bey was not a fluid, nat­u­ral re­ceiver. He had a habit of jump­ing for balls that hit him in the stom­ach rather than run­ning through the route and main­tain­ing his speed. Nor was Hey­ward-Bey adept at ad­just­ing to balls in flight.

Hey­ward-Bey was get­ting crit­i­cized heav­ily on blogs, and then on Twit­ter when it started in 2010. Com­ments said “DHB” stood for “Drops Hella Balls.” Re­porters made note of his train­ing camp drops on a daily ba­sis. Davis lec­tured the me­dia, re­mind­ing them when Fred Bilet­nikoff couldn’t catch a cold, Cliff Branch had hands of stone, and Jerry Rice was nick­named “Oops.”

It wasn’t un­til Hue Jackson ar­rived in 2010 as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor be­fore tak­ing over as coach in 2011 that Hey­ward-Bey put up some num­bers. In­stead of ask­ing him to run un­der rain­bows, Jackson had quar­ter­backs throw short to Hey­ward-Bey, where he

could use his size and strength to break tack­les and run af­ter the catch.

In 2011, Hey­ward-Bey had his big­gest sea­son, with 64 re­cep­tions for 950 yards. He played one year un­der Den­nis Allen, catch­ing 41 passes, then left as a free agent — first to the In­di­anapo­lis Colts in 2013 and then to the Steel­ers.

The Colts and Steel­ers, like the Raiders, quickly sur­mised Hey­ward-Bey was never go­ing to be­come a big-time re­ceiver.

But here’s where the story gets good. Hey­ward-Bey, who never com­plained when he was get­ting crit­i­cized in Oak­land and was al­ways lauded for his work ethic, made the most out of what he did have in terms of a skill set rather than ob­sess­ing over what he lacked.

He threw him­self into spe­cial teams, par­tic­u­larly on cov­er­age units.

Hey­ward-Bey is cur­rently in the last year of a three-year deal worth $3.8 mil­lion, hav­ing caught 30 passes over the last

four sea­sons (21 of those in 2015) and just a sin­gle re­cep­tion this year.

This sea­son, Hey­ward-Bey has more than twice as many spe­cial teams snaps as he does as a re­ceiver, which is rare con­sid­er­ing he doesn’t re­turn kick­offs or punts.

“It’s an ad­just­ment, but you take the strides, you un­der­stand this is where I am in my ca­reer,” Hey­ward-Bey told Steel­ers.com this past off­sea­son. “This is who I am right not now, and I em­brace it. A lot of peo­ple wake up in the morn­ing, brush their teeth and lie to them­selves. I try not to. I try to tell my­self the truth so I can get bet­ter.”

Ac­cord­ing to spo­trac.com, Hey­ward-Bey’s to­tal earn­ings are $38.3 mil­lion, and he has re­lied on his mother, a CPA, to make sure the money saved has been in­vested wisely.

At 31, DHB may or may not be at the end of the road. Hey­wardBey has the last laugh if he wants it, but the beauty is he’s never wanted to use it any­way.

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