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Will Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey make big strides in his second NFL season after a disappointing rookie campaign?

Heyward-Bey will be one of the most closely watched second-year players in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeDarrius Heyward-Bey
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelOakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had just nine catches his rookie season.
He must show improvement after a terrible rookie season. Heyward-Bey had only nine catches for 124 yards in 11 starts. Those are staggering numbers. Heyward-Bey’s college reputation for having unreliable hands continued in his rookie season.

The Raiders were widely criticized for taking the Maryland product with the seventh pick over Michael Crabtree, who was considered the best receiver prospect available. Crabtree, who went at No. 10 to San Francisco, had 48 catches despite holding out for five games.

The Raiders believe in Heyward-Bey. Last weekend, they sent out a rare press release expressing their expectations for Heyward-Bey. Recent reports say he has looked good in OTAs.

The Raiders clearly think Heyward-Bey can provide big things. But after his rookie season, hopes must be tempered. It’s terrific that he has made offseason strides, but the kid must show he can perform and hold onto the ball when it counts.

Heyward-Bey has the ability to make plays in the NFL. He is very fast and a hard worker. But he has a lot of work to do.

If Heyward-Bey can stay in the starting lineup, learn to catch consistently and come up with 40 to 50 catches this season, it would have to be considered a success for him. But the key for Heyward-Bey is to continue to get better catching the ball. Until he shows he can do that on a regular basis, the jury is still out.

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