The Oakland Raiders have not had a first round draft pick who was a difference maker since taking Nnamdi Asomugha back in 2003. That’s 10 years without having a first rounder come in and help the team improve, which is a large part of the reason the Raiders have been long stuck in a quicksand-like pit of ineptitude.
In 2013, the Raiders had a first round draft pick for the first time since 2010 and used it to take cornerback D.J. Hayden out of Houston. Even though the Raiders traded back to the 12th pick in the draft, it was still seen as an epic reach considering Hayden was not expected to be drafted until late in the first at best.
After a rookie season plagued with injuries and inconsistent play, many Raiders fans grew impatient with Hayden and angry with general manager Reggie McKenzie for taking him. As the Raiders saw players available at No. 12 go to other teams and have very productive rookie years, they saw Hayden not even get on the field for a large part of his rookie campaign.
Not surprisingly, many have already jumped to the all-too-early conclusion that Hayden is a bust. Clearly he was not the impactful type of player you expect with a top-15 pick, but a bad rookie season does not mean he will not be a good NFL player. In fact, Dennis Allen still has very high hopes for the young corner.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Allen said “I think D.J. Hayden is going to be outstanding. If he can stay healthy, I think he is going to be outstanding.”
Clearly the “if he can stay healthy” is a big if for Hayden, but that’s not the only area that concerns many onlookers. From his size to his inability to get his head around in the NFL, many simply believe that Hayden is not capable of becoming a No. 1 corner. For Allen to say that Hayden could be outstanding aside from injuries is a huge compliment.
There has been no question about Hayden’s physical abilities. He has great speed and agility and many have commented that he has the best feet for a corner since Charles Woodson had his first stint with the Raiders. Hayden’s biggest issues thus far have come from his diminutive stature and awareness.
While he can bulk up a little, Hayden will always be on the smallish side. But if he can learn to judge when the ball is in the air so he can get his head around earlier, his physical talents will be able to make up for his lack of size.
Hayden has the tools, the question is whether or not he can put everything together and become a complete player. Allen sure seems to think so and the Raiders fans have to hope he is right.