Darrius Heyward-Bey probably isn't on your fantasy radar if you didn't roster him last season. Heyward-Bey has been something of a punchline for fantasy football players since before he first put on a Raiders uniform. In the 2009 draft, Oakland shocked most of the world by drafting Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree with the seventh pick in the draft. Heyward-Bey posted an incredible sub-4.3 40-yard dash time and the football community enjoyed the low-hanging fruit appearing once Al Davis selected the fastest receiver in the draft over the most polished.
The former Maryland star responded by catching just 35 passes his first two seasons in the league, which appeared to justify the critics who declared Heyward-Bey a huge reach. But last season, he "broke out" with 64 receptions for 975 yards and 4 touchdowns. Heyward-Bey is an intriguing sleeper candidate for a lot of reasons:
He only scored 4 touchdowns last season, a number likely to rise if he can continue to flirt with 1,000 yards
It wasn't all that publicized, but the Raiders with Carson Palmer had one of the league's better passing games. Oakland gained 2,518 passing yards over their final 9 games of the season, the seventh-highest mark in the league during that stretch.
Heyward-Bey has elite athleticism and appears to be finally developing into a #1 receiver
Additionally, Oakland is likely transitioning from a running team to a passing team. The departure of Michael Bush and the continued maturation of wide receivers Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and Denarious Moore, along with the transition from Tom Cable to new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, may mean continued strong numbers from the Oakland passing attack.
But the key is Carson Palmer. Thought by many (yours truly, included) to be washed up, Palmer threw for 299+ yards in 5 of his 9 starts last season. Palmer and Heyward-Bey developed as the season went along, as Heyward-Bey gained 433 receiving yards in the final four games of the season. In week 17, Palmer targeted Heyward-Bey 17 times. If Palmer continues to look towards Heyward-Bey in 2012, the pieces are in place for a breakout season. Based on his current ADP of WR42, Darrious Heyward-Bey is one of the highest upside picks in the entire draft.