Also known as Cornerbacks and Safeties, Defensive Backs are the pass protectors. Their main job is to stop offenses from advancing the ball on passing plays. In a majority of games, they are the last line of defense. In today’s NFL, the position of DB is highly coveted due to the high-flying offenses around the league. DB’s have to be agile, fast, strong, fearless, smart, and most of all have great awareness. heighth is not as important, as long as they can jump, and their average sizes range from 5′ 9″ and up. Although, there is a trend beginning in the defensive backfield, one that includes taller and stronger DB’s.
Along with the coaching carousel in Oakland, there has been a lot of turnover in the defensive backfield of the Oakland Raiders as well. Not since Nnamdi Asomugha has there been a shut-down corner in the Raiders backfield. Long gone were the days of “The Assassin (Jack Tatum),” “The Judge (Lester Hayes),” Mike Haynes, Skip Thomas, Willie Brown, George Atkinson, Jr., and many, many more. It’s a position that has struggled to maintain its identity through poor draft picks and free agent flops. However, that trend ended when the Raiders hired General Manager Reggie McKenzie to clean up the team. Now, the defense is beginning to take shape and get back some of that swagger it once was known for.
So let’s take a look at each individual in the Oakland Raiders backfield, their strengths and weaknesses, and breakdown their contributions moving forward into the 2014 NFL Season. I’m going to start with CB-D.J. Hayden, a player held under some controversy and concerns, but a player I believe will be one of the best defensive backs for the Oakland Raiders.
D.J. Hayden (#25)-
Chosen in the First Round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, D.J. Hayden came in with a ton of upside, but he also came in with a horrific injury. As we all know, Hayden nearly died on the practice field in Houston while making what seemed to be a normal tackle. It was anything but normal. An artery in his heart had been torn, and he nearly bled out before reaching the emergency room. Yet, through perseverance on his part, Hayden bounced back and prepared himself for his future.
Prior to his injury, Hayden was being touted as the best available Cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft. Yes Raider Nation, better than Dee Milliner (New York Jets). Still, Hayden had a lot of obstacles to overcome if he was going to play football again. That chance came when the Oakland Raiders pulled the trigger and took him at pick number 12. Controversial? Probably, considering the fact that Raider Nation wanted a player who would contribute right away. When Hayden had to wear a red jersey in practice to avoid contact, the rumblings about his health and readiness began. Especially when he had to have adhesions removed from his stomach, which continued to keep him out of football. Then came the excitement when Hayden was finally on the field for the 3rd Pre-Season game against the Chicago Bears. Even more so when he made his first tackle.
Hayden played in 8 games in 2013, and he combined for 25 tackles (22 solo/3 assisted), 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, and 2 passes defensed. The interception came against the San Diego Chargers in October of 2013, and he picked off “The Whiner” Phillip Rivers. It was definitely a view of things to come. Still, he struggled to find his groove. He made some rookie mistakes that ended in big plays. Was this due to the fact that he missed a good majority of OTA’s and valuable Training Camp snaps? Was it due to the fact that the Raiders were afraid that he’d get injured if he played more? Unknown. For there will always be things that the Raiders won’t tell us, and they were definitely keeping the Hayden saga under wraps.
Now, the 2014 NFL Season is upon us, and it is time for Hayden to step up. It is time for him to have a stellar Training Camp performance, and cast aside the doubts on Raider Nation’s minds. Unfortunately, Hayden injured his ankle in OTA’s, but that will hopefully be remedied by Training Camp. Though, the injury, and conversation surrounding the injury, are reminiscent of Menelik Watson’s walking boot injury last year. Let’s hope this isn’t a repeat.
In my opinion, D.J. Hayden has the ability to become one of the best Cornerback’s in Oakland Raiders history. The intangibles are there, he just has to stay healthy and learn. Put the 2012 injury and the 2013 season behind him, move on, and become the CB he was drafted to be. There were some flashes of it in 2013. Plus, the addition of CB Carlos Rogers and CB Tarell Brown should assist Hayden’s learning process. Those two proven CB’s can provide the mentorship that Hayden needs to advance his game. Hayden has a lot to prove, and I can’t wait to see him do it.