ALAMEDA – Raiders cornerback DJ Hayden was a productive member of the Raiders secondary this season. He found a role in the slot and filled it well, playing with aggressiveness and confidence as the team’s third corner.
This was a positive step after injuries and effectiveness plagued the 2013 first round pick early in his NFL tenure. During Sunday’s victory over Carolina, his career took another cruel twist.
He got tangled up with receiver Kelvin Benjamin early in the fourth quarter, landed awkwardly and suffered a hamstring injury that ended his season early.
The Raiders will place Hayden on injured reserve before their home game against Buffalo, head coach Jack Del Rio announced on Friday afternoon.
"He has a substantial hamstring injury, and won’t be returning this year for us,” Del Rio said. “That was a big blow. It’s unfortunate. He was playing well.”
Hayden has played his last down of the season. He might’ve played his last down as a Raider as well. He was not offered a fifth-year team option afforded to first-round picks, and is set to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
The Raiders locked up David Amerson and Sean Smith to long-term contracts this offseason.
If Hayden walks, it would mark a disappointing end for Reggie McKenzie’s initial first-round pick. Hayden battled with injuries early in his career. He was drafted No. 12 overall despite having a heart issue stemming from a practice incident at the University of Houston. He played eight games as a rookie and landed on IR with a groin strain.
Hayden missed the first six games of 2016 with a foot issue, but rebounded well and played 37 consecutive games before hurting his hamstring against Carolina.
“It's tough,” Amerson said. “It's the way the league goes, man. It sucks individually for DJ and for us as a DB unit because he was an important piece.”
TJ Carrie will become the Raiders’ slot cornerback, a position he held as a rookie. He started 14 games last season, but has taken a backseat with Amerson and Smith established on the outside.
“He’s been a pro all year,” Del Rio said. “He’s really been good for us. He played a lot bigger role last year, and has been prepared at all times to go in. We have a lot of confidence in TJ.”
Carrie has stepped in a lot lately, with Smith and Amerson missing time with injury in November. Rookie Antonio Hamilton now sits behind him as the No. 4 cornerback.