This interception against the Chargers was rookie cornerback DJ Hayden's highlight play this season. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
When Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie selected cornerback D.J. Hayden in the first round of the draft this past April, it was a surprise.
But McKenzie had looked past Hayden’s scary incident at the University of Houston, when a blow to his chest in practice almost was fatal – prompting surgery and an end to his season – and seen a talented defensive back he believed could help rebuild the leaky Oakland defense.
“His man coverage skills are what set him apart,” McKenzie said at the time. “He’s quick and fast and aggressive.”
Then, when Hayden was set back in training camp and got off to a slow start in his rookie season, McKenzie cautioned that Hayden’s evaluation should be over the long haul, not his first few games.
“The situation that surrounded D.J. with all the other stuff that was going on, we knew that we were going to have to wait and kind of let the whole … let his progression grow,” McKenzie told reporters. “So, to be impactful in the first three to five weeks, it’s my hope that he’s a whole lot better in week 14, 15 and 16 than he is in weeks one through four.”
Now, however, Hayden won’t be on the field for the final weeks of the season.
The Raiders have put him on season-ending Injured Reserve after he had to have sports hernia surgery. Hayden had initially been diagnosed with a groin injury in early November, but it later was discovered to be a sports hernia.
So, whatever growth the Raiders hope to see out of their young cornerback will have to wait until next September.
Hayden’s rookie season certainly proved to be a roller coaster. His highlight play came in a victory over the Chargers, when his late interception sealed a victory. His lowlight came in his final game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 3 when he gave up 139 yards and two touchdowns on three long completions.
“I would say he had his ups and downs,” Oakland head coach Dennis Allen said Wednesday. “He had some times where I thought he played really well, and some times where he looked like a rookie out there.”
According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, Hayden allowed 23 catches on 38 targets for 386 yards in eight games, playing mostly as the nickel corner alongside veteran starting corners Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins.
One of the Raiders’ concerns about Hayden is that they would like to see him get stronger. As Tafur noted, at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, “He looked undersized.”
Allen, too, hopes that Hayden can take what he learned this season, have a strong winter and spring and come back in 2014 a much more polished player.
“I was pleased with his progress and now he’s got to go through another rehab process and begin to start getting ready for next year,” Allen told the media. “It will be a great thing for him to have a full offseason where he can work out, get himself in shape, get bigger, get stronger and get ready for next year.”
Phillip Adams is expected to fill Hayden’s role as the No. 3 cornerback for the remainder of this season.