On the Market: Huff and Heyward-Bey
Steve Palazzolo spotlights a pair of recently-released ex-Raiders and what they have to offer as free agents.
On the Market: Huff and Heyward-Bey
Day One of free agency was littered with nearly as many big name releases as there were signings, so teams have even more work to do when evaluating the free agent class. Two intriguing releases came out of Oakland where the Raiders parted ways with former first-round picks wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and safety Michael Huff. While Huff had a solid career in Oakland, Heyward-Bey was thought to be a major reach in the draft and certainly didn’t live up to the Raiders’ expectations as the No. 7 pick in 2009. Both releases were based mostly on salary considerations, so with the financial baggage removed, Heyward-Bey and Huff are players who could become value signings as free agency unfolds.
Let’s forget about his draft status and the huge rookie contract for a minute and take a look at Heyward-Bey’s resume as a receiver. He’s never really developed into the elite deep threat his 4.3 speed would suggest, but he’s shown an ability to work the intermediate level and perhaps a more favorable quarterback can help him take his deep game to the next level.
One of the big knocks on Heyward-Bey has been his questionable hands, and while he certainly had major issues early in his career, he’s made great strides in this area, including performing better than league average in 2011. Here’s a look at his career numbers:
TA Rec. % Ct Yds Yds / Rec. YAC YAC / Rec. LG TD In DP MT Fu Drop Rate
2009 38 9 23.7 124 13.8 14 1.6 24 1 3 5 0 0 35.7%
2010 60 26 43.3 366 14.1 106 4.1 69 1 1 7 3 0 21.2%
2011 106 64 60.4 975 15.2 301 4.7 58 4 4 6 9 1 8.6%
2012 77 41 53.2 606 14.8 237 5.8 59 5 2 6 10 0 12.8%
Heyward-Bey’s hands have improved greatly since 2010 and he’s showing better ability after the catch, including a career-high 10 forced missed tackles in 2012.
Again, he’s always had to live with the high expectations of being the seventh pick in the draft as well as the high price tag that comes with Top-10 pick status. His $8.2 million cap hit last season made him one of the league’s most overvalued players, but with a fresh start on the horizon, Heyward-Bey has a chance to escape the pressure of being a game-breaking wide receiver and continue his development into a dependable secondary option in a well-rounded passing attack.
We see many safeties double as slot corners in sub packages but it’s very rare that a safety can make the move to a traditional cornerback role and have success. That’s exactly what Huff did in Week 3 when injuries forced the move to left cornerback. The Pittsburgh Steelers attacked him often (completing eight of the 11 balls thrown his way), but they were mostly of the short variety and Huff’s -3.1 grade in that game stemmed mostly from his three missed tackles.
After the tough first game, Huff continued to show improvement and seemed to make the position switch official when he picked up three passes defensed and an interception (and a +2.3 coverage grade) against the Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones in Week 6. Huff finished the season at cornerback and graded at +2.1 at his new home. It was an impressive performance as he performed admirably at a position where most safeties would be exploited.
When you add it all up, opponents completed only 53 percent of passes into Huff’s coverage and he finished with nine passes defensed and two interceptions. All of this came two years removed from Huff grading at +17.2 as our No. 2 safety in the league, and one year removed from his strong play when filling in as the team’s slot cornerback. He’s essentially succeeded in three different positions over a three-year period.
Any team looking to sign Huff will likely put him back at his more natural spot at safety, but his experience playing in the slot and on the outside will prove invaluable. In a league that covets versatility, Oakland’s releasing Huff may have vaulted him to the top of the free agent safety rankings.
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