Oakland Raiders: You Can Lead A Horse To Water, Can’t Make Him Drink

Aug 22, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Charles Johnson (12) catches a pass past Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) for a touchdown in the second quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 22, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Charles Johnson (12) catches a pass past Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) for a touchdown in the second quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /

Though Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden is flirting with the dreaded bust label, the team continues giving him every chance to be successful.

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Earlier this offseason, new Oakland Raiders cornerback Sean Smith voiced his support for the embattled D.J. Hayden. As Oakland’s first round pick back in 2013, Hayden hasn’t come close to living up to his billing and is in fact, dangerously close to getting tagged with the dreaded “bust” label – though, truth be told, many have already hit him with it. But there are some who believe that Hayden can still defy those labels, reinvent himself, and be a successful NFL cornerback.

There are some who will give Hayden something of a pass on his first two seasons in the league. Injuries derailed both seasons, limiting him to just eighteen total games – with just ten starts – over that span of time. 2015 was the year Hayden was supposed to live up to his first round status. He was healthy, motivated, and supposedly, ready to roll.

Except that he never really got rolling all that well.

Oh, he showed some flashes of how good he could be now and then. He had an interception and eight passes defensed, to go along with a forced fumble and 70 total tackles.

But he also drew flags at an alarming rate – ten accepted penalties (13 overall) for 111 total yards. Those numbers put him among the league leaders in that rather dubious category.

Hayden’s penalties helped extend drives and even led to some scores for the opposing team. All in all, it was a profoundly shaky, inconsistent performance for a player – in his third NFL season – should have been a lot more disciplined, refined, and better developed than Hayden showed himself to be.

Even still, there are some who have taken up for him, including Smith who said that Hayden has the ability to be successful and can still reinvent himself.

"“The thing about football is you can always reinvent yourself. I had a chance to meet with him for a brief second. There wasn’t too much to talk about. Just come out here with a whole new mind frame, a whole new mindset. Trying to repaint your image. The past is the past, but you come out here and work, compete and try to get better. As long as you put it on tape, you’ll always have a job in this league. So, he has nothing to worry about.”"

It is a sentiment that was recently echoed by Raiders HC Jack Del Rio. In a recent media session, Del Rio offered some unprompted insight on Hayden.

"“DJ Hayden had a really good spring. He really did …I’m excited about his development. I saw a point earlier in the offseason where Sean was being questioned about the other DBs and I think he said, ‘Hey, you have a chance to redefine yourself.’ I really believe that. As a player, it’s never too late. You can redefine yourself, turn the corner and peel labels off that maybe people have for you and create your own. I feel like he’s on his way to doing that this year.”"

Del Rio’s praise – scant, though it may be – could be a small sign that Hayden is perhaps, starting to figure it out. There have been plenty of question marks about his effort in practice and the suggestion that he does not give it all. After Hayden was benched last season, DC Ken Norton Jr. had a few words on the subject.

"“It’s competition and we just want to keep stressing you practice hard, you perform, you’ll play and the same thing on the adverse side of it. If you don’t practice hard and you don’t perform, you won’t play.”"

With camp looming in the not too distant future, if Hayden truly wants to redefine himself and “peel off those labels” as Del Rio suggests he’s capable of doing, he’s going to have to work extremely hard. He’s going to have to show that he can do more on the field than give up big plays and draw flags.

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He’s also going to have to prove that he can perform consistently. Dynamically. With Oakland’s revamped secondary looking to be much improved over last season, Hayden has nowhere left to hide. He’s not going to get playing time simply because the team has no other viable alternatives at the position.

Which is the thing now working against him — the lack of opportunity he may be facing. With Smith and David Amerson locking up the two starting outside corner positions, Hayden is going to be left to battle with Travis Carrie and Neiko Thorpe for playing time in the slot.

Logic would seem to dictate that it is an uphill battle for Hayden as Carrie has already showed that he can be a more consistent performer at the position, but at this point, nothing is set in stone. If Hayden wants the job bad enough, he’s going to have to fight for it.

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This truly is a make or break season for Hayden. The Raiders have already declined the fifth year option on his rookie deal – and avoided the near eight million dollar price tag that came with it. That is simply too much money for a player who has yet to prove he has the skills to thrive at the NFL level.

If Hayden really wants to find success in the league, he’s going to have to step it up big time this season. And if he really is going to peel off those labels and redefine himself, he’s going to have to do something he’s not yet been able to do to this point in his career – put a lot of good things on tape.

The team has given him every chance to be successful in his first three years in the league. This year, it’s all up to Hayden. This season will be a test of his will and desire. If he’s successful, perhaps the Raiders will bring him back. Or perhaps, he’ll find another home with another cornerback needy team.

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If he’s not successful and doesn’t show out big this year, his career trajectory might wind up looking like another recent former first round pick who is struggling to hang on to his career – Trent Richardson.

Hayden is out of excuses and is almost out of time. If he wants to peel off those labels and salvage his career, now is the time. The Raiders have been patient and have given him every opportunity to succeed – now it’s entirely on him.