Perhaps no player has entered the NFL following a scarier injury than the one suffered by D.J. Hayden. When the Oakland Raiders drafted the playmaking cornerback 12th overall in the 2013 NFL draft, they did so less than six months after the University of Houston product almost died on a football field during practice.
Hayden survived a ruptured blood vessel in November that is said to be 95 percent fatal, an injury seen most often in car accidents, and when the rookie had to have abdominal surgery in late May to clean up residual scar tissue it seemed as if all the worst fears of drafting this promising player who had been cleared medically were being realized.
Once Hayden signed his first-round rookie deal on Thursday, for four years with nearly $6 million guaranteed, the Raiders announced later that day that both he and Menelik Watson, their second-round pick, were being placed on the non-football injury list.
That bad taste attached to every major decision in Oakland for over a decade seemed to be rearing its ugly head once more, but you can come off this injury list at any time.
And on Friday, Reggie McKenzie’s first ever No. 1 pick offered a pleasant surprise to both Raider fans and the second-year GM who had the stones to choose the risky and uber gifted cornerback. Cleared by the Raiders medical staff on Friday morning, D.J. Hayden was in uniform to participate in the Oakland Raiders first training camp practice yesterday.
Although, sometimes even extremely talented young millionaires must crawl before they walk, run, or take interceptions back to the house, and so it was in Napa on Friday that D.J. Hayden wore a red “no-contact” quarterback jersey on the second team while playing in the Raiders first practice.
“It’s been nine, 10 months since he’s actually really played football,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “We’re not just going to throw him in to the fire right away.”
McKenzie guaranteed right after the draft in late April that Hayden would be ready for OTA’s a month later, but just getting the Raiders only first-round pick since 2010 back on the field was a victory of sorts for the this talent-starved franchise.
Hayden himself seemed to strike the right chord after working behind the first-team cornerback pairing of Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins (he also returned some punts).
“If I’ve got to have a red jersey on, that’s what it is,” Hayden said after practice. “Whatever the coaches decide is best for the team, then I’m cool with it, I just want to go out there and just be me.”
It may well have been a small step, but D.J. Hayden surprised many by practicing in Napa yesterday, and here’s hoping it was just the beginning of a long, healthy and exciting journey for this playmaker out of Texas — one that will look that much better wearing Silver & Black.