Just three short years ago, former Steelers safety Ryan Mundy landed then-Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey in the hospital after an astoundingly hard hit that rendered him unconscious and suffering from a neck injury.
Now Heyward-Bey is a proud member of the Black and Gold and will likely see an expanded role due to the suspension of breakout star receiver Martavis Bryant, who is facing a four-game suspension for marijuana use. His suspension coupled with Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension for a 2014 marijuana-related infraction is an opportunity for other talented players to step up and make a difference. Already receiver Markus Wheaton and running back DeAngelo Williams are in the spotlight in the absence of their suspended teammates.
Ben Roethlisberger praised Heyward-Bey recently saying to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "We've been working with Hey-Bey. He's been playing with a lot of confidence, and we have confidence in him. He's one of the guys who went down to Georgia with us when we worked out. We built that confidence and trust in each other. I think he'll step up and be just fine."
Heyward-Bey was the Raiders 2009 first-round draft pick. Plagued by injuries his rookie year, Heyward-Bey was only able to start eleven games and tallied only 124 yards. Subsequent seasons he fared better, peaking in 2011 when he had 64 receptions for 975 yards.
Heyward-Bey played for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 and was with the Steelers last year, though he did not see much playing time. For most of his career, Heyward-Bey did not have the benefit of playing with a star quarterback. The Raiders quarterback in 2009 was JaMarcus Russell, followed by Jason Campbell in 2010. His best year, 2011, the Raiders quarterback was Carson Palmer, although Jason Campbell managed to play in six games that season.
How will Heyward-Bey do under Ben Roethlisberger? He should fare much better than he did under Russell, Campbell and Palmer since Roethlisberger is one of the finest quarterbacks in the league. He also brings out the best in his players, as evidenced by the slew of receivers and running backs who are able to reach new levels of excellence with Big Ben at the helm.
Can Heyward-Bey replace Bryant? Probably not, but hopefully he can elevate his game and revive his career in the absence of his suspended teammate.