It wasn't that long ago that Niners fans laughed at the Raiders for choosing Darrius Heyward-Bey in the 2009 NFL draft. Heyward-Bey was known for being fast and doing very little else at the University of Maryland and was part of Al Davis' plan to draft as many "freak" atheletes as possible. That plan modestly ended the following draft. Heyward-Bey was, of course, chosen over the more-heralded, two-time Biletnikoff winner Michael Crabtree from Texas Tech, chosen by the Niners.
Up until the 2011 season, Niners fans had good reason to continue laughing away. After all, Heyward-Bey's first two seasons combined weren't even as good, numerically, as Crabtree's worst season. That is until the 2011 season where the killer combo of Jason Campbell/Kyle Boller/Carson Palmer gave Heyward-Bey his best season, finishing with 64 catches and 975 yards, more yards than Crabtree had ever accumulated in a single regular season.
Now, it appears that Heyward-Bey could be the better wide receiver. This list ranks the top wide receivers taken in the 2009 NFL draft. Fingers crossed for our beloved Crabtree.
1) Mike Wallace, 3rd round, 84th overall, Pittsburg Steelers: Back-to-back 1000+ yards for the past two seasons. One of the premier wide receivers in the NFL and an important contributor on a perrennial Super Bowl contender. Absolute steal in the third round.
2) Hakeem Nicks, 1st round, 29th overall, New York Giants: Like Wallace, has posted back-to-back 1000+ yards the past two years. Has won a Super Bowl with the Giants but loses to Wallace as he is the second best receiver on his team.
3) Jeremy Maclin, 1st round, 19th overall, Philadelphia Eagles: Down year last year due to the struggles of the Eagles but forms a potent duo with DeSean Jackson. Looks to rebound with the rest of the Eagles this coming year.
4) Percy Harvin, 1st round, 22nd overall, Minnesota Vikings: Had career-best 967 yards despite the Donovan McNabb/Christian Ponder quarterback debacle. Injury-prone, but has improved yards and catches each year since he has been in the league.
5) Michael Crabtree, 1st round, 10th overall, San Francisco 49ers: Yes, yes I know I just bashed Crabtree for a soild three paragraphs but let me explain. Crabtree gets points for inconsitent quarterback play and Jimmy Raye as the offensive coordinator for two of his seasons. Still, Crabtree hasn't helped himself. Between his frequent injuries, diva-like behavior, and general lack of production, Crabtree has to shoulder much of the blame himself. Crabtree, a notoriously slow starter, has yet to even appear in a single pre-season game. Still, he's only 24 and still has time to turn it around. He reportedly will try to play this friday's preseason game, despite yet another injury.
6) Darrius Heyward-Bey, 1st round, 7th overall, Oakland Raiders: Davis got one part right: the speed is for real. Despite doing nothing for the first few years, Heyward-Bey had an inconsistent but promising 2011 season. While he seems to have shed the dreaded "Troy Williamson" comparison, Heyward-Bey still has a few warts himself. To truly be considered better than Crabtree he still needs to prove that last season was not a fluke and needs to avoid getting in to more trouble (had a DUI this offseason).
Honorable Mention: Johnny Knox, 5th round, 140th overall, Chicago Bears: Followed his 900+ yard season with a solid 700+ yard season. Could improve next year with defenses honing in on Brandon Marshall.
Dishonorable Mention (sort of): Kenny Britt, 1st round, 30th overall, Tennessee Titans: To say Britt has had his troubles is quite an understatement. Britt has 8 total skirmishes with the police, the latest being a DUI charge on an army base. Coming off a torn ACL and MCL Britt could have ranked higher than Crabtree provided he had built upon his strong 2011 start and potentially avoided his current legal predicament.
To call Crabtree a bust at this stage of his career would be too assumptive. But after three underwhelming seasons and an even worse postseason performance, time is running out for the talented wide receiver. This upcoming year Crabtree will have to translate his potential in to actual production if he wants to establish himself as a premier wide receiver.
Otherwise we might have to answer the deep philosophical question: If a Crabtree falls on the field, and no one is around to hear it, is it still a touchdown?