Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey
If Ryan Mathews had the quietest 2011 breakout season for a running back, Darrius Heyward-Bey was his equivalent for receivers. Heyward-Bey's 64 catches, 975 yards, and four TDs all at least doubled his previous career highs. DHB finished as the No. 28 fantasy wideout -- an every-week WR3.
I already re-watched Heyward-Bey's Week 14 game at Green Bay. I'll kindly say he played poorly. DHB gets the benefit of the doubt because he was so productive over the course of the season and has come so far from where he was as a rookie three years ago.
In search of more favorable performances, I chose Week 11 at Minnesota (5 targets), Week 7 versus Kansas City (11 targets), and Week 17 versus San Diego (14 targets) to re-watch.
Heyward-Bey was primarily the X receiver with Denarius Moore at Z, although they flip-flopped sides of the field and positions often. Moore looked more natural defeating cornerbacks' jams.
I noticed against Green Bay that Heyward-Bey tends to let defensive backs push him around and obtain inside position outside the numbers, making his quarterback susceptible to interceptions. This was the case on the second play of the Chargers game, as LCB Quentin Jammer boxed out DHB along the sideline on a comeback route, only to drop what should have been an easy pick.
This happened again late in the fourth quarter against San Diego, on a touchdown bomb attempt down the left sideline as Carson Palmer tried to pick on RCB Antoine Cason. While Heyward-Bey lost the one-on-one battle with Cason, this time he at least effectively swatted the pass away.
In the Chiefs game, just two snaps after beating RCB Brandon Carr for 21 yards on a post, DHB let Carr get inside position throughout a fly route to pick off Kyle Boller. That consistent tendency to get boxed out of plays may eventually discourage quarterbacks from throwing to Heyward-Bey.
It sounds harsh, but Heyward-Bey just isn't a physical football player. DBs outmuscle him, and he frequently dogs it as a blocker. I question whether Heyward-Bey will ever be a receiver who makes difficult grabs in traffic. With defenders closing in, Heyward-Bey fails to secure throws he should more often than not. He still drops too many catchable passes, and doesn't break many tackles after the reception.
But even as purely a finesse guy, DHB can be effective. He made a pretty over-the-shoulder catch on a first-quarter fade route in the back left corner of the end zone against San Diego for a three-yard touchdown, beating Cason. A quarter later, Heyward-Bey ran a zone-busting skinny post to get wide open for a 24-yard gain down the left hash. Heyward-Bey showed open-field running skills in the fourth quarter after securing Palmer's pass on a deep post, catching the 21-yard strike over the middle and tacking on 20 additional yards by outracing S Steve Gregory, among others.
Carson Palmer spread the ball around in the Vikings game but Heyward-Bey still flashed, securing four of his five targets. He made three receptions over the middle, two for back-to-back first downs on one second-half drive. Heyward-Bey also whipped CB Cedric Griffin on a skinny post for a would-be 30-yard gain, but had it called back due to LT Jared Veldheer's penalty at the line.
I thought Heyward-Bey exploded into pass patterns, got in and out of breaks quickly, and created separation at all levels -- particularly in the intermediate and deep sections of the field. He flies to the football on comebacks, curls, and out routes. DHB is very dangerous on the post. The Raiders caught a ton of flak in '09 for drafting Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree. But I feel comfortable saying that if you judge a receiver by his ability to defeat coverage, Al Davis made the right call.
And Heyward-Bey is showing more confidence than ever. He played with swagger in the games I viewed. He knows he's becoming a decent player. I just wish he'd play tougher from time to time.
Other observations from the Raiders games:
** I like Denarius Moore quite a bit better than Heyward-Bey. While they are both blessed with lanky builds and elite vertical speed, Moore flashed superior physicality and is more of a natural hands catcher. Moore also seemed to attract tougher coverage looks, suggesting opponents were more worried about what he'd put on game tape. They were less concerned with Heyward-Bey.
** Antonio Gates looked as healthy as ever in Week 17 at Oakland. He may not run quite as well as he used to, and Gates' rear end is bigger than ever, but he moved fluidly against the Raiders and didn't favor his previously troublesome foot. Gates finished with 106 yards and a touchdown.
** Curtis Brinkley was briefly on the fantasy radar due to injuries on the Chargers' running back depth chart last year, but he brings very little to the table as a ball carrier. With Ryan Mathews inactive against Oakland, Brinkley touched the football 19 times, and generated just 64 yards.
** The Raiders' offense is brimming with potential and big-play, quick-strike ability. Carson Palmer still has a power arm going on age 33, and Oakland's two starting wide receivers are very much capable of getting open on a down-to-down basis.
Panthers wide receiver David Gettis
Brandon LaFell is often talked up as a 2012 breakout candidate, but it was 2010 sixth-round pick David Gettis playing ahead of LaFell two years ago, when both were rookies. (LaFell was drafted three rounds before Gettis.) Gettis opened 2011 training camp as the Panthers' starter opposite Steve Smith. Unfortunately, Gettis tore his left ACL on August 10 and missed the entire season.
Gettis turned in a pair of 90-plus yard performances as a rookie, amid oft-horrific quarterback play in Carolina. (Read: Jimmy Clausen.) For game review, I chose Gettis' season-best effort -- Week 7 versus San Francisco -- and an eight-target affair in the regular season finale against Atlanta.
Before we hit re-watching in full stride, it should be noted that Gettis was a three-time California high school state champ in the 400 meters. He can get it going for a big dude. Gettis stands 6-foot-3, 217, and ran 4.43 at the 2010 Combine. He bettered that with a 4.39 at Baylor's Pro Day.
Gettis played Z and slot in the 49ers game. He moved to X at Atlanta with Steve Smith (calf) out. Gettis isn't a natural, quick-twitch slot guy -- we'll get to his skill set in a bit -- but I always like it when young players know multiple receiver positions. Remember, Gettis was a late-round rookie.
Watching him play, it doesn't take long to notice that Gettis is a tenacious, physical blocker. He is an impact player in the running game, and I thought that was an especially promising trait for a supposed "track guy." Those types are not always considered physical. Gettis loves mixing it up.
The best Gettis block I saw came in the third quarter of the Falcons game. He locked onto CB Dunta Robinson and drove him 12 yards downfield to spring LaFell for 64 yards on an end around.
Gettis showed toughness as a pass catcher on an early second-quarter slot route against San Francisco, running right around CB Shawntae Spencer's man coverage off the line of scrimmage and securing Matt Moore's pass for 20 yards with S Reggie Smith draped all over him. Gettis absorbed a blow during the reception, but held on tight and popped right back up after the whistle.
The then 23-year-old caught his first NFL touchdown pass on an out-and-up double move in the red zone, juking Nate Clements to the point that the veteran cornerback literally fell down. Gettis comfortably hauled in Moore's 18-yard scoring strike.
Gettis' long catch of the 49ers game came on second-and-ten in the fourth quarter. Lined up in the slot, Gettis ran a deep corner route down the right sideline and tracked the ball fabulously in the air, sitting in a soft spot to execute the 39-yard connection over the top of Clements' coverage.
Gettis showed some resiliency late in the game. He had a brutal fourth-quarter drop of a would-be touchdown just a few snaps after the 39-yard gain, letting Moore's perfectly-placed pass bounce off his chest. Gathering himself, Gettis atoned on the next possession by blowing past Spencer's off coverage to pull in a diving 21-yard touchdown. The score tied the ballgame 20-20 with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and John Kasay later banged home the game-winner.
Though less productive at Atlanta -- Jimmy Clausen was typically abysmal -- Gettis got open fairly consistently against Brent Grimes, more than holding his own versus the Falcons' top cornerback.
Gettis is a lanky, leggy long strider. He's not quick in a short area, but flashes ability to contort his body and secure errant throws. And he flies downfield. Gettis' explosion off the line is subpar, but he reaches top speed quickly enough to create separation in the intermediate and deep sections. I think Gettis could max out as a Braylon Edwards type; along the lines of his 2010 season with the Jets. Assuming Gettis bounces back from the ACL, his floor may be in the Michael Jenkins range.
Gettis isn't worth drafting in 2012 fantasy leagues, but he's a player to monitor closely as a vertical threat in a vertical offense. And he has a history of beating out the commonly higher-rated LaFell. At the very least, I think Gettis is capable of bringing a new dimension to Carolina's pass attack.
More notes from 2010 Panthers reviews:
** Carolina's 2010 offense under Jeff Davidson epitomized "vanilla" compared to Rob Chudzinski's 2011 version. As I noted in the Cam Newton column, Chudzinski's was long on variety and plays not only designed to create chunk yardage, but that executed. Under Davidson, the Panthers refused to use three-wide sets beyond obvious passing situations and often trotted out just one wideout on first downs. The run and pass games have both changed dramatically.
** LaFell earned more snaps as his rookie year progressed. He played behind Smith, Gettis, and David Clowney in Week 7. By Week 17, LaFell was the No. 2 to Gettis' No. 1 with Smith inactive.