Jim Irsay has been talking this offseason, albeit in a code only Irsay fans would appreciate, about bringing in a "whopper" signing of a wide receiver. Many had speculated that it would be Victor Cruz, but just yesterday, we learned that it was someone better…or, someone who was at least drafted higher. Darrius Heyward-Bey, the former #7 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts.
At first thought, this is less a "whopper" and more of a "whopper jr." But, Heyward-Bey might be the sneakiest offseason move yet. At just 26 years old, "Hey Bey Bey" (c'mon, don't tell me that you already forgot the amazing single "Ay Bay Bay" by Hurricane Chris) has a lot of room to grow. He may not be the most talented receiver, but he also hasn't had the best quarterbacks in the league throwing him the ball.
In his short career, his QBs have consisted of JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell, and Carson Palmer. Other than Palmer, you couldn't make much of a case to call any of those quarterbacks even mediocre. Now, he will get the chance to catch passes from Andrew Luck, last year's #1 overall pick, who brought the Colts from 2-14 to 11-5 in just one season. Some may call Luck great already, which may be a bit ambitious, but even his biggest critics wouldn't say he's worse than Palmer at this stage.
Last year, Luck was asked to throw the ball 627 times, good for 5th most in the NFL. Let me explain: he was asked to throw the ball 627 times to wide receivers like T.Y. Hilton, Donnie Avery, and a pair of rookie tight ends. Yes, he had future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, but you can't throw to the same guy every time. Heyward-Bey is the perfect complement to Wayne (would it be too ambitious to make a Batman/Robin joke? We're dealing with a "Wayne" here!).
Wayne, a route-runner by trade who knows how to find open space, has gotten a little too old (he turns 35 this season) to run deep routes. Luckily, Heyward-Bey's specialty is the deep route. Some would argue that running a streak is his only move, but that's another argument for another time. At the end of the day, the Colts just got one of the fastest receivers in the NFL (he ran a 4.25 40 time in the NFL Combine, good for 2nd fastest in history) for almost no money or commitment.
A one-year deal worth a maximum of $3 million is a bargain for a player entering his prime with a skill that can't be taught. Here's my bold prediction for Heyward-Bey: he catches 70 passes for 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2013. If you thought that was bold, you're mistaken. In his best year, 2011, he caught 64 passes for 975 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was playing with Carson Palmer, who threw 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions that year, compiling a 80.5 passer rating and a 62.6 Total QBR. He was also the only receiver on the team who drew defenders, as Denarius Moore wasn't enough to take any pressure off of him.
In 2011, Heyward-Bey had 115 targets; in 2012, Donnie Avery had 125 targets. If Heyward-Bey replaces Avery's targets in Indy, he will undoubtedly reach those totals and do it easily. Think: Pierre Garcon in 2011. Jim Irsay might not have brought in a "whopper" of a wide receiver. Heyward-Bey could be just another fill-in wide out for a team that many expect might see substantial regression in their win-loss record next year. Or, Heyward-Bey could be a difference maker on a playoff contending team that is only getting better. Either way, one thing is for sure: Andrew Luck cannot wait until his new snack from Burger King arrives.
By: Evan Kendall