- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS | Without directly saying it, Darrius Heyward-Bey delivered a message to NFL teams looking for a receiver in the first round of April’s draft.

Why not me?

“People are worried about the 40 time, worried about the stats,” Heyward-Bey said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. “But do you know football? Are you ready to go into the NFL game and know what you’re doing? I have that knowledge. Of course I need to learn more, but I have the ability to pick things up quickly and be on the field early.”

A receiver wasn’t selected in last year’s first round, but a group headlined by Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin could provide five selections in the opening 32 picks. Heyward-Bey, who played at Maryland, is projected slightly behind Florida’s Percy Harvin and even with North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks.

After Crabtree and Maclin, things get tricky. Harvin has been compared to former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, but he has durability concerns. Hicks’ 40 time will be huge for him because teams still worry when a receiver doesn’t run fast despite great production.

Heyward-Bey, who measured 6-foot-2 and weighed 210 pounds Friday, will do everything at the combine and has to eliminate concerns about his hands and productivity. Heyward-Bey’s 138 catches in three years rank third in Maryland history, but Crabtree and Maclin caught 231 and 182 passes in two years.

“He’s tough to [evaluate] on tape because they couldn’t get him the ball a lot,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “When you see him with the ball in his hands, you say, ‘Wow.’ … The question with him is that he doesn’t always consistently catch the football. To oversimplify it for a receiver, it’s ‘Can you get open and separate, and are you a sure-hands catcher?’ I’m not convinced he’s a natural-hands catcher yet. From what I’ve seen so far, he fights the ball a little bit.”

Mayock described Maryland’s passing offense as “schizophrenic.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. added: “I thought there were some games they didn’t make a concerted effort to get him the ball enough. He’s got to get the ball six to eight times a game.”

Heyward-Bey was content with his role in the Terrapins’ offense.

“Things only get frustrating when you lose and you can’t help your team win,” he said. “That’s the only time. Never was there a point in my career where I felt I should get the ball more. I just wanted to help the team win, and when you lose a game, everybody’s frustrated.”

Numbers aside, Heyward-Bey is on the radar of several teams that need receivers in the final half of the first round: Chicago, Indianapolis, Miami, Tennessee and the New York Giants. Heyward-Bey averaged 15.3 yards a catch in his career, better than the draft’s other top receivers.

“I do believe I’m a game-breaker,” he said. “I made big plays in College Park, and I think I’ll continue to do that in the future.”

Heyward-Bey said he thinks the future will be soon because of his pro style offense background. Crabtree, Maclin and Harvin all played in spread offenses.

“That’s what separates me,” Heyward-Bey said. “I’ll bring a playmaker and somebody who can stretch the field and be a guy who can run deep against a Cover 2 to open up for another player and open up the running game.”

If Heyward-Bey posts a solid 40-yard dash time Sunday, he could solidify his first-round status.

“Some people are really going to like him,” Mayock said. “He could come here and run 4.32, and everybody will go, ‘Wow, why don’t you have him higher?’ ”

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