Revisiting DHB vs. Crabtree

One of the big controversies of the 2009 draft was when then-Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis took Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the No. 7 overall pick. Heyward-Bey wasn’t overly productive in college and he had suspect hands. Still, he was considered a late first-round pick because of his speed and potential.

Three picks after the Heyward-Bey stunner, the Raiders’ cross-bay rival San Francisco 49ers took Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech. Crabtree was the top-ranked receiver in the draft.

When they made it, the Raiders were criticized for the pick, including by me. Heyward-Bey didn’t do himself any favors by catching just 35 passes in his first 25 NFL games. However, Heyward-Bey showed signs of life last season when he caught 64 passes for 975 yards. He still needs to work on his consistency and his hands some, but Heyward-Bey showed in 2011 he can be a productive player.

Crabtree, meanwhile, has been average and has not lived up to his expectations, causing the 49ers to reload at receiver this offseason. Crabtree had 72 catches for 874 yards last season.

In his career, Crabtree has 175 catches for 2,240 yards (a 12.8 per catch average) and 12 touchdowns. Heyward-Bey has 99 catches for 1,465 yards (a 14.8 per catch average) with six touchdowns.

Those statistics indicate Crabtree is the better player. But not so fast.

In a tweet this week, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. wrote he believes Heyward-Bey is becoming a better player. I asked him to expand on that thought for this blog post.

This is what Williamson had to say: “They couldn’t be any more different in terms of styles, but I do think DHB is more dangerous and worries the opponent more right now. He has improved dramatically since entering the NFL and did come to the league at a very young age. His routes and especially his hands are way better than his rookie season. And, of course, he can fly. He doesn’t operate out of the slot and probably won’t be a high volume guy in terms of catches, but he is getting better for sure.”

In the end, the best first-round receivers picked that year could end up being the final four taken as Jeremy Maclin (No. 19), Percy Harvin (No. 22), Hakeem Nicks (No. 29) and Kenny Britt (No. 30) have all produced early in their careers. But if Heyward-Bey can continue to make progress, as Williamson thinks he can, Oakland will be able to justify the pick more than first anticipated.