When the Oakland Raiders spent their 2013 first-round pick on cornerback D.J. Hayden, it was said that the Houston product was mentally ready to see the field. From what they’ve seen early on in the season, though, they might want to pull back on the reins.
In the Raiders’ Week 3 showdown with the Denver Broncos, Hayden looked a bit lost against an elite receiver unit. Targeted five times, Hayden allowed five receptions for 49 yards, including four for 44 yards to Demaryius Thomas. When all was said and done, the rookie had earned himself a -4.0 overall rating based on Pro Football Focus’ system.
The glaring issue, though, isn’t necessarily his coverage skills.
At this point in the season, Hayden has missed six tackles – all against the Broncos. Whenever the ball carrier seems to come his way, the rookie attacks timidly and looks eager to avoid a collision.
While his missed tackles can easily be seen as comment on his tackling abilities (or lack thereof), the deeper issue could be the rookie’s hesitance towards physicality stemming from the freak accident that nearly ended his life last year. Following a collision with a Houston teammate during practice, Hayden torn a heart cavity and nearly bled to death.
That traumatic experience could be what’s forcing Hayden to shy away from stepping up and making confident tackles.
The fact remains that, seeing as he’s less than a year removed from nearly losing his life, Hayden might need more time before he’s mentally prepared to take hits. The Raiders gambled in drafting him back in April, and must now play the waiting game as he works through the trauma.
There’s no doubt that Hayden can be a difference-maker for the Raiders someday. For now, though, it seems as if the young cornerback needs still has some coping to do.