D.J. Hayden makes plays. That’s why Reggie McKenzie, the outwardly conservative General Manager of the Oakland Raiders, risked the 12th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft on a young man who was millimeters away from dying on a football field last November.
This year’s draft represented McKenzie’s first chance to make a statement in the painfully slow rebuilding of the once proud Raider Nation, an opportunity to put a stamp on his vision for the Raiders future, and with McKenzie’s first premium draft pick in two years on the job he selected a young man who played only 22 games of Division One football at the University of Houston, a player who missed the end of the 2012 season after a scary heart injury almost killed him, and the GM whose glacial-speed decisions seem to be made in igloos did so because D.J. Hayden makes plays.
Which is the same reason Mike Mayock, the leading scout for the NFL Network, named Hayden his No.1 overall cornerback in this year’s draft, above the highly regarded Dee Milliner, a national champion out of Alabama. Mayock’s analysis of both players was nearly identical, until he got to their ball skills – because D.J. Hayden makes plays on the ball.
Hayden ran a 4.33 40-yard-dash, Milliner ran a 4.37, and the two corners put up remarkably similar statistics in college.
D.J. 127(90) tackle(solo), 1 sack, 6 int for 229 yds and 3 td’s, 25 pass def, 6 forced fumbles
Dee 136(89) tackle(solo), 1.5 sack, 6 int for 107 yds and 1 td, 40 pass def, 2 forced fumbles
Except Dee Milliner’s stats are his three-year totals, during 38 games played for the Crimson Tide. D.J. Hayden‘s big play capability is obvious when we remember he created those six forced fumbles in just 22 games and snagged the six picks he returned for a whopping 229 yards and three TD’s in less than two full seasons at Houston (the opportunistic corner averaged 38 yards per interception return.)
Milliner went No. 9 overall to the New York Jets, and the All-American was projected to go even higher. Here was Mike Mayock’s take on the 2013 NFL Draft’s two best corners…
D.J. Hayden had an excellent junior college career, winning a national championship in 2010 as a sophomore at Navarro College. He was a big part of Houston’s 13-1 season as a junior, when the Cougars finished #14 in the BCS, and Hayden, a Houston native, was having an excellent senior campaign prior to his injury.
The Raiders have a long and storied history of outstanding cornerback play ranging from Stickum to stick ‘em. Hayden’s transition will be aided greatly simply by being around Charles Woodson, the Hall of Famer who has matured into one of the NFL’s true leaders, a man who mentored several promising young DB’s in Green Bay. Woodson knows all about making an impact on defense and this young pupil has all the tools it takes to be great.
One good thing about the modest collection of talent currently on Oakland’s roster is that it guarantees promising young players will get snaps, although Hayden’s talent is such that he’d probably see serious playing time for just about any team in the league, even as a rookie.
The Silver & Black must find cornerstones to build upon, and this cornerback who arrives in Oakland oozing potential is going to be on the field from day one flying around the football. And when this young fella gets his hands on the pigskin don’t be surprised if he takes it all the way to the house — because D.J. Hayden makes plays…