October 6, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback DJ Hayden (25) intercepts the ball against San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) during the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Oakland Raiders Player Evaluation: D.J. Hayden


Throughout the offseason, Just Blog Baby will be evaluating the performance of players on the 2013 Oakland Raiders roster. This evaluation on 2013 Raiders first round draft pick D.J. Hayden comes from JBB Podcast cohost Rory Anderson.

For one reason or another people love to beat up on DJ Hayden and his play this season. For me, when I put everything into context, I see a very talented player that dealt with a significant injury, missed a ton of reps due to no training camp, and made rookie mistakes because of it. When you really dive into his numbers, some of them show his rookie mistakes, but when they are compared to another rookie cornerback whose game is extremely similar, you find they are pretty standard. A quick disclaimer, I am not writing this to justify Reggie McKenzie’s choice of Hayden because I believe his play will justify that decision over time, but I will once again show how immediate reactions regarding draft picks are unwarranted and impractical.

By the Tape

DJ Hayden had a very mixed bag when it comes to his play this season. Early on he seemed to struggle in press coverage and was hesitant in his rerouting. This is most likely due to his loss of practice time, but the result was giving up some big plays in the passing game. He did not get burnt or blown off the ball; instead he seemed passive and thus ineffective at times. Then when they would put him in off coverage where he was at home, he had success in preventing the big play and rallying up and making the tackle. As the weeks went on, Hayden got progressively better at using his hands and one of the lost successes (which were few) in the Eagles game, was how well Hayden rerouted Cooper to the outside. Of course he injured himself on that play and got beat by an exceptional throw, but his coverage was solid.

One of the hardest techniques for a corner to learn and it is why many talented cornerbacks struggle early on in man to man coverage, is learning when to get their head around. Cornerbacks time their movements based on keys given from the man they are defending. Many times it is seeing the eyes open or the hands come up, but veteran NFL receivers are able to hold off from giving themselves away. That requires that a cornerback learn to feel the ball coming in other ways or be more attentive, but these lessons take time to learn and missing training camp put a delay on that learning. The best man coverage corners take time to develop. Generally speaking, cornerbacks that do well their rookie years are either role players or zone corners. Corners such as Alterraun Verner, Joe Haden, and Marcus Cooper all had on paper success their rookie years due to those reasons. Two of those names have turned into very solid cornerbacks, but the point in the same, being a man corner that sees starter level snap counts generally creates statistically bad play since the transition from college to pro is so dramatic.

To throw out a couple significant compliments to DJ Hayden’s play from day one he was a very good and very physical tackler. His work against the run game was prevalent and although he struggled tackling Demaryius Thomas, he was a force on the outside against screens and the run game alike even forcing a fumble on an impressive hit on a receiver screen week five.

Comparing Hayden

In order to really put Hayden’s rookie year in perspective, I want to compare him to a guy that has a very similar skill set. Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson is widely thought of as one of the NFL’s best young cornerbacks and he specializes in man coverage. He at times struggled in press coverage his rookie year, but learned to overcome his issues to become a very solid cornerback. Here are the statistical highlights from profootballfocus.com of Patrick Peterson’s rookie year:

Qb Rating against: 85.0 Catch %: 59.3 3 tds 2 ints 67 rec

869 yards 198 yac 13.0 apc PPF grade -10.8 PFF grade @ 8 games -8.2

Best game 3.1 Worst game -6.5

Compare those numbers to DJ Hayden, just remember DJ only played eight games:

QB rating against 110 Catch % 65 3 tds 1 int 26 rec 376 yards

105 yac 14.5 apc PFF Grade -7.7 Best game 1.9 Worst game 4.0

The overall point is simple, man coverage rookie cornerbacks struggle. Both Peterson and Hayden were selected high on were on sub-par teams with defenses that struggled at times especially with pass rush. They both have similar skill sets, great recovery abilities, solid hands, and natural playmaking talents. Both players had terrible games in the middle of their rookie years, the difference is Peterson had an opportunity to learn from his and did, but Hayden suffered a sports hernia injury.

Grade: C

All things considered DJ Hayden was exactly what each and every Raider fan should have expected to get from a rookie cornerback thrust into significant duty on a defense with no other impact players. Fans view Hayden grudgingly because he was selected over players like Lotulelei or Richardson, both guys who have had solid rookie years but benefit greatly from significant talent around them. If Hayden was never hurt during his senior season he would have been a top five pick from day one of the scouting process and even though many fans disagree with the pick, there were many teams lining up to take Hayden in the first round. All in all, DJ struggled as most rookies do, but the future is bright for him and I am very excited to see his future growth. He can be an exceptional player.

Tags: D.J. Hayden Oakland Raiders Player Evaluations

  • Ricky Bobby

    I agree

  • Dean Thomas

    Great evaluation. I’m sick of “fans” who do nothing except criticize RM, DA, and this team. After cleaning up the mess left by Al trying to get to another Super Bowl before he passed, it was like building an expansion team. We all know it’s been a long time since 2002, but in my opinion what “fans” need to do it start in 2011 and give Reggie his 4-5 year plan of putting together a regular winner.

  • Hayekian

    I do not know what films that you relied upon to come up with this evaluation. As someone who played and coached “corner” extensively, I saw things completely differently. Hayden has a flaw that is extremely difficult to correct. There is a significant lag between the instant that Hayden “recognizes” and when his hands perform the act dictated by the stimulus provided by the receiver. Go back and CLOSELY look at the film!!! To play “man” coverage, you need to be completely and absolutely confident playing in the “trail” technique, that is to say trailing the receiver just behind his hip with your back to the QB. As you described, the corner then responds to the “signal” (eyes, hands, hips, and speed of the receiver) to KNOW when to look back for the ball. Hayden is OK to this point, a little uncomfortable but within the scope of being able to correct the flaw with experience. So far so good. His problem is the lag time between his eyes recognizing the situation and his hands performing the act dictated by that recognition. Review the film and you will easily see it. His head turns in time and then, 1001,1002, and then his hands come up…always a mili-second too late. Check it out!

  • PJ

    Rm and DA have no clue. Do we remember last year? Bergstrom 1st pic and standing sidelined for 2years, Bilukidi and Stupar? Really! This year, DJ? Watson( no exp.), and Bass who gone. Wison 4th overall,he gone and they passed on Star, Floyd, Ansah, Vaccaro, Ball, Lacey, Bernard, Keenan Allen, Ellington,Eifert and many more that are having immediate impacts. These guys and our scout have no clue. Al might have over paid and lost his touch a little down the home stretch but nobody saw talent like he did or got the most out of what he had. DA and RM both continue to under value players and miss on talent. I have no faith in these two rookies AT ALL! I cant bare to watch how they are fuk’n up this last 2 years and this team talent and pics. 40 years and I cant barely watch now!

  • PJ

    Great evalution! Thats what I see too. His response and react time are not in uniform with each other. He can can cover from an athletic perspective but he has yet to show instinct and that’s where he gets beat. He also needs to learn to play with his hands off scrimmage and push routes inside or squeeze them off on the outside. Fair to say?

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  • Ethelred

    First off, Floyd and Eifert had minimal impacts this season. Of the remaining players you mentioned, only the first three went in the first round, and two of them, Ansah and Vaccaro suffered injuries – it is also interesting that your knock on Watson is his lack of experience, yet you cite Ansah as an example of a player McKenzie “missed.” Thirty-one GM’s passed on Ball,Lacey, Bernard, Allen, and Ellington. It is just silly to cherry-pick stand-out rookies and fault McKenzie for not taking them. The same goes for nitpicking late-round picks like Bilukidi and Stupar. (I would be curious to know how long the average sixth or seventh round pick stays with the franchise that drafted him). This is especially so considering McKenzie’s knack for finding quality at the bottom. You ding him for Bilukidi and Stupar, but omit Streater, Holmes, Rivera, McGee, and McCants. No GM gets it right 100% of the time. Finally, with a player like Wilson, it is easy to point fingers with the benefit of hindsight, but from a pre-draft vantage point, it is tough to call the pick a total failure. Remember that Wilson was only one year removed from being a concensus top 15 pick, and while he had lost some of his luster, it does not seem overly foolhardy to risk a fourth round pick given his potential upside.

    I do agree that McKenzie faltered with the Bergstrom selection, but show me a GM who consistently nails it with third-round picks. Speaking of, Sio Moore definitely had an immediate impact this season, so it is not as if McKenzie’s selections have been entirely bereft of starting capability. This myopic obsession with McKenzie’s drafting acumen also overlooks the other responsibilities that a GM has, namely salary cap management. And on the front, he has been superb, turning a cap nightmare into a bonanza in just two seasons. I certainly wouldn’t argue that McKenzie has been truly exceptional thus far, but he has not been disastrous either. The fact of the matter is that right now the sample size is too small to make any definitive pronouncements. There have been both glimmers of savvy and total head-scratchers, but at this juncture it is impossible to know which is the rule and which is the exception.

  • bzdup

    Dean I’m sick of the “fans” like you that think it takes 4-5 years to rebuild a team!!! WHERE DID YOU INVENT THAT NUMBER FROM? Also… the TEAM WAS ALREADY REBUILT. We were back to back 8-8. So stop the sympathizing with Dennis Allen, he’s had plenty of talent to win, he just sucks as a coach.

  • Crusader10

    Glad to see someone showing some love for DJ. I expect him to come back strong and, with a little help and good coaching,to be an outstanding player.

  • Crusader10

    I don’t blame Al so much because I am pretty sure he knew he didn’t have much time and was trying desperately to get one more winner before that came.

  • Dean Thomas

    That’s what I was trying to imply.

  • Dean Thomas

    Sounds like I must have been talking about you. Jump ship then bro, get on the Niners bandwagon. If u don’t like what they’re doing don’t be a fan.

  • Rees Britton

    Yes the team was rebuilt… with a bunch of over paid players at the end of their careers! What team are you watching? Im glad all of these people know so much, thats why you work in the nfl right?!?!?

  • bzdup

    THE TEAM WAS 8-8. YOU CANNOT ARGUE THOSE FACTS. DENNIS ALLEN HAD THE EXACT SAME PERSONNEL HIS FIRST YEAR AND WENT 4-12. THOSE ARE “FACTS”.

  • bzdup

    The team I watched this year, was the Dennis Allen led team that did not play hard, wwent 1-8 to finish the season, just like it did the last year. What games are you watching? I was watching the 4-12 Raiders son!

  • bzdup

    Being a fan doesn’t mean I just blindly think everything the Raiders are doing is great. Cuz Dennis Allen is the WRONG WRONG guy he is NOT a good coach. Never has been either. He was a DC ONCE in his entire career and led a 21st ranked Denver defense.

  • Mark Shafer

    I feel you on these post season analyst. It is easy to say ” I wish we could have gotten Keenan Allen”. In hind sight it would have been great,but to say “we passed over Allen ” is totally ridiculous. Nobody knew how good he would turn out including himself. Allen contemplated quitting. Whether you support R M or not is besides the point. It is a ignorant response to act like the Raiders just passed on the obvious pick thinking their pick is the better one. The hardest thing for R M is not being able to get the key personnel, be it players or coaches ..This year will be the first year that he will be able to go get more of what is needed and not settle one more year will only make us a better team.

    .

  • bzdup

    This dude DJ has been solid, the minute he got injured the defense fell apart, not sure it was 100% because of him, but he was having an above average rookie season. For a DB playing in a compelx defensive scheme, that’s not bad. Nnamdi took 2 years to even get an int I think.

  • Rees Britton

    Exact same personnel is a stretch and we all know it… no team has the SAME personnel 2 years in a row. Lets not forget that Hue started the season with Jason Campbell…. can someone please explain why we let him go???
    Hue wasn’t perfect and threw his team under the bus after collapsing late in the season, which in affect cost him his job. DA’s first season was a complete disaster and he doesn’t escape blame for that by any means, but I thought the team was in a lot of games this season and played pretty hard considering our depth issues due to injury and salary cap restraints.
    We can go round and round over our opinions of how hard the team played, but there is no denying the lack of talent across either line and thats where football is won. We paid 60 million dollars to players that don’t even play for us anymore and we were competitive in games with an undrafted rookie free agent quarterback.

    Is this a make or break year for DA and RM both… absolutely!!!!

  • The_Civilian_James_Trapp

    No, the defense needed to be rebuilt. And that’s where all the “overpaid” players were. Satele/Veldeer/Wiz/Moore/DMC/Bush/Ford/Palmer were players you could build around. These guys blew up the offense for no reason other than to hire Greg Krapp. That’s a fireable offense right there. Bergstrom, Knapp, Hayden, Wilson, Brisel, neither one knows personnel & neither one knows coaching. We’re fu**ed with this JV squad.

  • Dean Thomas

    I don’t blindly think everything they’re doing is great, I shook my head I don’t know how many times on his coaching decisions, clock management, personnel moves etc. I do, also realize he’s a young coach and his players are buying into it. (According to what they say, doesn’t seem he’s lost the locker room). Yes, RM has made some head scratching moves and draft picks, but like all GM’s he’s not gonna hit on every one. Nobody can predict injuries and when Watson & Hayden played you could see the potential. I was shaking my head in disbelief many more times when Al was running the show after 2002! It just seems like everybody who’s constantly criticizing every move RM makes thinks all rookie players should be pro bowlers. I don’t know how they’re gonna perform, but time will tell.

  • Rees Britton

    That was 2 years ago… first of all. Palmer is/was the definition of over paid. That guy is so not clutch it isn’t even funny. We all know about MCFragile and how reliable he is, but yes like I said. The Greg Knapp hiring was f*^cking horrible! Again that was 2 years ago and this last year we showed some real improvement with as you stated, a JV squad. So lets see what these guys can do with an actual offseason with money to spend and draft picks to use….

  • Rees Britton

    and they blew up the offense b/c WE DIDNT HAVE MONEY TO SPEND!!! What don’t you guys understand about that?

  • Jaime Olguin

    I agree to and like you am very excited to see his development improve thru out the course of the off season, with a
    Complimentary of a great supporting cast from FA and the draft we could see an awesome defense in 2014.
    I do have a great deal of faith with this regime, Go Raiders!!!!

  • bzdup

    Well I do agree RM has been doing a decent job. I like Watson and Hayden as well. I’m just a Dennis Allen Hater, I know the team keeps saying they believe in him, but players always back up the coach. The players wanted Joe Bugel, and still wanted him even when he was fired! anyways, I guess my ranting ain’t gonna change shit! Hope RM can get some good players

  • Pridenpoise

    I suggest you get yourself a program from the years 2011 and 2012 and compare the “personnel”, because you seem to have let your fantasy get in the way of reality, and those are the “facts”.