Oakland Raiders: Five players under pressure in 2015

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Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) is tackled by Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Miles Burris (56) and cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 47-14. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

DJ Hayden

Why he is under pressure: Anyone who has been following the Raiders over the past two seasons knows that cornerback DJ Hayden is one of the most criticized players on the roster and is a player who is brought up constantly by critics of general manager Reggie McKenzie as a ‘bust’ despite Hayden only being in what his his third offseason with the team. The first of which will be a full offseason as injuries have hampered Hayden’s career in the NFL to date, a lingering impact from his near death injury in college slowing him down in 2013 before he missed the start of 2014. Ultimately returning to play much of last year as a capable cornerback who showed the speed and ball skills that made him a first round pick back in 2013 as a player that McKenzie feels can still be a future starter at the corner position for the next decade.

Still, that ‘bust’ label remains when it comes to Hayden from a large segment of fans who feel that the cornerback will never become a consistent player. Even with some good games during 2014 showing the progress that can make him a capable starter, there is a feeling that Hayden’s injury history will still be his downfall.

With the Raiders deciding not to spend on veteran corners during free agency, there is going to be plenty of responsibility placed on Hayden and the young Oakland CB’s this season to step up to their potential right away. Making the third season in Oakland for Hayden one that is going to have him under fire once again as a former first rounder who needs to live up to his potential if the Raiders defense is going to be successful with Hayden being one of the keys at the position group.

Can he break the pressure: With so many fans already forming their opinions on Hayden, he is likely never going to become a fan favorite, but when it comes to expectations from the coaching staff a healthy Hayden could be successful in 2015 based on what he has shown when he has been on the field. Fast enough to stay with the bulk of receivers in the NFL while having the instincts to use his ball skills to create the occasional turnover, Hayden is a player who can be trusted on most plays to not get burned in coverage.

Of course the usual bad play has been in Hayden’s body of work on tape as he has been burned his fair share like all developing corners, but for the most part he is a guy who when healthy can be dependable on every down which will go a long way in changing his reputation if he can play all 16 games for the first time in his career.

Like Darren McFadden before him, Hayden’s career could come down to just being able to stay healthy enough to show his full potential. It starts with getting through just one season fully healthy, and in Hayden’s case it is going to take some health luck to shed the unfortunate ‘bust’ label he has been handed. The talent is there, but the other factors haven’t went Hayden’s way yet in his career to make him a successful draft pick for the Raiders.

Halfway through his rookie contract, the time is now for Hayden to to start progressing as the Raiders need to see their investment gain some returns as the cornerback is an integral factor in if the team can compete or if they will have a huge weakness in pass coverage in 2015.

Next: Under Pressure: Latavius Murray