It’s not very often that a football player can come within minutes of death and end up a first-round pick only a few months later. That, however, is the case for Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden, who was selected with the No. 12 overall pick this past April.
The Raiders’ gung-ho pursuit of Hayden begs to question just how high the Houston product could have gone had he not torn a heart cavity during a freak practice accident. Reports indicated that, had the Raiders not found a trade partner to move down, they would have taken Hayden with the third overall pick. Talk about persistence.
Considering the Raiders full-court press to get Hayden to Oakland, the chances are slim that the rookie won’t be the starter once training camp kicks off. Even with a couple polished veterans – Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter – in the mix, there’s no way the Raiders are going to let a star-in-the-making like Hayden sit on the bench. Put simply, he’ll be a Day 1 starter unless an injury sidelines him before the regular season begins.
When it comes to on-field talent, Hayden can hang with the best cornerbacks that the 2013 class has to offer. Whether it’s press-man, off-man or zone coverage, Hayden excels at making plays on the ball and keeping his receiver away from it. With outstanding athleticism and uncanny instincts, he flies around the field making plays and giving opposing offenses headaches. Even against the run, his aggressiveness allows him to standout and be a difference-maker.
Look at it this way… Following his near-fatal injury, Hayden lost 30 pounds and wielded a scar that ran the entire length of his torso. Four months later, he ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at his Houston Pro Day. Are you kidding me? No wonder the Raiders were so gaga over this guy.
Above all, the fact that he battled back from a near-death experience to find himself in a position to be a starter in the NFL shows the determination he lives with every day. As long as he’s not traumatized by the accident when training camp starts, Hayden will be the Raiders’ starter for years to come. If all goes as planned, he might even develop into one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
With everything that Hayden has been through over the past few months, the sky truly is the limit for the young cornerback. Hayden is the Raiders’ living proof that miracles do happen.
Even if you’re not a Raiders fan, you know you want to root for Hayden.