Race To Replace Darrius Heyward-Bey Is Wide Open
Darrius Heyward-Bey’s departure to the Indianapolis Colts has left a void at a spot where the Oakland Raiders need speed, sure hands and a mental sharpness to make plays in a clutch situation. With Oakland since 2009, Heyward-Bey had a career year in 2011 with 64 receptions for 975 yards. In 2012 he racked up 41 receptions for 606 yards. His talent made DHB a fan favorite in Oakland.
In the offseason Oakland drafted wide receiver Brice Butler out of San Diego State and picked up un-drafted free agent Conner Vernon out of Duke. Both are expected to add depth, and one or both could emerge as factors this season. Oakland still has a core of capable and talented wide receivers but who can step into DHB’s role and lead a 4-12 team into possible contention?
Denarius Moore is all but assured the spot as the go-to wide receiver. Last year he was second in yardage behind tight end Brandon Myers with 51 receptions for 741 yards and seven touchdowns. Moore is entering his third year in more of a leadership role. But he struggled to catch the ball in 2012; he was tied for sixth in the NFL with nine dopped passes. Moore, 24, says he is addressing this problem during practice, and as long as he stays healthy, he should be as reliable a target for Matt Flynn as he was for Carson Palmer.
Rod Streater had an impressive rookie year with 39 receptions for 584 yards. Streater, 25, assumed a larger role after injuries to Moore and Jacoby Ford. In Week 13, Streater had a 64-yard TD catch against Cleveland. The following week against Denver, he caught a 58-yard pass from Palmer, which led to his first 100-yard game. At 6-3, he has a height advantage over the 6-0 Moore, good hands and acrobatic ability.
Ford is fast and explosive and may see more action on special teams, but his skills as a wide receiver can’t be underestimated. Ford, 25, missed all of last year due to a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, but he made 19 catches for 279 yards in 2011 and had 25 receptions for 470 yards in 2010. Ford will need to keep himself healthy during the offseason, as he is expected to be Oakland’s primary slot receiver.
Juron Criner had 16 receptions for 151 yards and one TD in his rookie season last year. His output wasn’t as impressive as that of Moore or Streater, but his height (6-3) and strength helped him make clutch plays. Last preseason, Criner, 23, made a fingertip catch on a pass from Terrelle Pryor for a 76-yard TD against Detroit. There is no question about Criner’s ability, but he still needs to live up to his potential. With competition from Streater, Ford and the recently signed Josh Cribbs, Criner will have to produce big yards consistently if he wants to be a star.