As a wide receiver coming out of Maryland, the Oakland Raiders drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey seventh overall in 2009, hoping that his speed and agility (he recorded the best 40-yard dash time of 4.25 seconds in the 2009 NFL Combine) would make him a top rated wide-out in the NFL.  Many criticized Al Davis and the Raiders for this selection for drafting Heyward-Bey ahead of Michael Crabtree, who was regarded as the top wide receiver of the 2009 NFL draft.

Unfortunately, DHB did not live up to these high expectations, and struggled from dropped-passes (in 2011 – his best season as a Raider – he had 64 receptions from 115 targets, for 975 yards receiving), ailed from recurring injuries, and experienced difficulty adapting to Oakland’s revolving door of starting quarterbacks (Heyward-Bey played with seven different starting quarterbacks in his four years at Oakland: Jamarcus Russell, Charlie Frye, Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller, Carson Palmer, and Terrelle Pryor).  After four years of mediocre play, he hit the open market as a free-agent.

This past offseason, the Indianapolis Colts made Heyward-Bey a one-year offer for 1.5 million dollars guaranteed, with incentives worth up to 3 millions dollars.  The Colts are hoping that with a stable offense and commanding second-year quarterback, Andrew Luck, Heyward-Bey will grow into the legitimate threat he was selected to be.  This is a cheap bet for the Colts front-office, and Heyward-Bey will most likely emerge as Indianapolis’ breakout star in 2013.

Indeed, there are plenty of reasons why Heyward-Bey may have struggled in Oakland, but in Indianapolis, many of these excuses do not apply: DHB is healthy and the Colts have provided him with consistency at most offensive skill positions – especially quarterback.  In Indy, Heyward-Bey should be able to put his experience and skill-set to good use.

As of now, Heyward-Bey will be the Colts number 2 wide-receiver, and although Hilton has tremendous upside and potential, DHB has more experience, has the prototypical size for a traditional number 2 wide-receiver (6’2, 219 lbs) and will matchup better with larger defensive backs. Expect Heyward-Bey to be on the field for most offensive snaps, and to be targeted for short yardage plays and in the red-zone. 

Heyward-Bey also has the opportunity to learn from veteran Colts’ receiver Reggie Wayne – something he never truly had in Oakland.  Such mentorship cannot be quantified in statistics, and presents an additional tool which will help DHB as a first year player for the Horseshoe. 

The stars have aligned for Darrius Heyward-Bey, and the time has arrived for him to succeed.  For all these reasons, Heyward-Bey is the Colts’ mostly likely candidate to breakout in 2013.

Projected Statistics: 65 receptions, 890 receiving yards, 5 TD receptions, 67 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD