Darrius Heyward-Bey’s gamble to enter the NFL Draft paid off quickly.
The swift former Maryland receiver, who left school a year early, was the seventh pick in Saturday’s draft after the perennially rebuilding Oakland Raiders selected him with one of the first truly surprising moves of the day.
Heyward-Bey was the first receiver picked - ahead of Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin - and is the second-highest-drafted wideout in Maryland history.
“I don’t know why I moved ahead of those guys, but definitely the Raiders saw something in me,” Heyward-Bey told reporters. “I feel like I had the qualities to be the best receiver in the class.”
Mammoth Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe went a pick later to Jacksonville.
Heyward-Bey’s greatest skill is his 4.3 40-yard dash speed, a trait that always made him such a promising commodity at Maryland. Heyward-Bey ranks second in school history in receiving yards (2,089) and third in catches (138), but he still had a modest junior season.
Faced with the combination of occasional double-teams, playcalling that didn’t always emphasize his abilities and the inability to get open as often as needed, Heyward-Bey had 42 receptions, 609 yards and five touchdowns last fall.
Neither those numbers nor concerns about Heyward-Bey’s route-running frightened the Raiders.
“I know people look at the stats and everything, but just playing in the pro-style offense and having the skills and being able to be taught and listen and work hard, I felt like I was definitely at the top,” Heyward-Bey said.
Heyward-Bey is the third Maryland product to go in the first round this decade, joining Shawne Merriman (2005) and Vernon Davis (2006).
Merriman thrived with San Diego before missing most of last season to injury; Davis has struggled for much of his time with San Francisco. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was thrilled Heyward-Bey could join them as first-rounders, especially given projections that suggested his wait might be much longer than it turned out to be.
“I’m so, so ecstatic on that,” Friedgen said after Maryland’s spring game. “I’m really happy for Darrius. I was real worried about that. But to go seventh? When we were calling, they were picking him to go in the lower first round, maybe even early second. To move up to seventh in the draft, I’m just excited for him.”
Monroe, a 6-foot-6, 315-pound behemoth, is the latest hulking lineman to come out of Virginia, joining the likes of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Branden Albert.
Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin, a native of Largo, went 11th to the Buffalo Bills. The Miami Dolphins selected Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis, a D.C. native and brother of Vernon, at No. 25. Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim went No. 45 to the New York Giants.