I, like many, wasn’t even exactly sure who DJ Hayden was going into the 2013 NFL Draft. I mean, I do follow the draft, but honestly all I’d heard about Hayden was about the injury he sustained during practice that very nearly killed him. He was selected 12th overall in the draft despite having not taken a snap in the second half of his senior year. He had started the first nine games before sustaining a torn inferior vena cava during passing drills where he collided with a safety. The safety’s knee struck Hayden in the chest and resulted in an injury that is most commonly seen in high speed vehicle accidents.
This sort of injury carries with it a 95% fatality rate due to the massive loss of blood. Hayden described the moments after the accident saying that things went pitch black in his left eye and that he just felt suddenly cold and sleepy. Even after this accident, Hayden was still afforded first team All-Conference USA honors. And though he hadn’t been able to prove himself in the last half of his senior year, the Raiders thought highly enough of him to spend their first round draft pick on him.
Such was the lot that the Raiders had leading up to the 2013 season. As Raider Nation knows, cap space was a huge problem and general manager Reggie McKenzie had to hustle in order to fill the roster. That meant a lot of young, unproven players. The flip side of these young and unproven players is that they came into the season with something to prove, which is the crux of what turns a player into an Oakland Raider. This presented Raider Nation with the grand debate of whether or not it is a dearth of talent or coaching that has gotten the Raiders to yet another losing season. A lot of things went wrong for the Raiders this season, one of which being the fact that they were plagued by injuries including Hayden who missed a massive amount of time.
Before Hayden was injured he logged 26 tackles and one interception as well as two defended passes. His first NFL interception was against San Diego Chargers’ quarterback Phillip Rivers. Hayden was placed on the injured reserve list after undergoing sports hernia surgery. What was increasingly frustrating about losing him with six games remaining in the season was that he was looked to be coming along well during the season. Slowly, but he was coming along.
His progress was somewhat infuriating at the same time. His game was improving but one could still see that he was a split second behind making the play in most instances. It almost seemed as though he was second guessing himself and that lack of confidence definitely hurt him. He wasn’t finishing plays, but one could see that his timing was coming together and once that confidence falls into place, he’ll be batting balls down and making some serious plays.
This off season will be really vital in the healing process for Hayden. Once he’s healthy and can get out there to continue his progress, I think Raider Nation will be in for a pleasant surprise come the start of the 2014 season. He came so close to being the real deal this season and it was unfortunate that he sustained another injury when he did.
Hopefully, Hayden has all the time he needs to heal from his injury and he’s spending his offseason studying the game and bulking up so he doesn’t get injured again. I think that he’s going to hit the ground running next year as it seems as though he didn’t get to get that chip off his shoulder in the 2013 season so he still has something to prove to his team, to Raider Nation, and to himself. A healthy Hayden on the Raiders defense will definitely be something to look forward to and hopefully will result in more interceptions. Would definitely be exciting to see him pick up his progress right where he left off and just conquer that confidence issue and act rather than hesitate. That hesitation gives the wide receiver the chance to walk away with the ball. It definitely gives Raider Nation a source of optimism to look forward to seeing a healthy Hayden take the field next season.