D.J. Hayden: Bench Warmer Turned Slot Performer
Raiders veteran cornerback D.J. Hayden rarely sees his name attached to a positive headline, as the 2013 first-round pick has crumbled beneath high expectations for the majority of his career.
Fortunately for Hayden, every dog has his day.
Hayden, a former Houston product, has turned what was a premiere bench role in 2015 into a full-time position in the slot.
With starting cornerback David Amerson and Sean Smith getting the job done on the outside as of late, Hayden has seen a lot of targets come his way in the first three weeks, and with that experience, he has blossomed into something special inside the hashes.
According to PFF.com, Hayden amassed the third-highest defensive grade for the Raiders on Sunday.
Despite having just one pass deflection, Hayden performed well in man coverage in the slot; however, he was at his best when asked to come up and make a tackle in shallow zone coverage, accumulating six combined tackles (four solo), per ESPN.com.
Though Raiders safety Reggie Nelson was likely credited with the pass deflection when he hit Mike Wallace on fourth down to secure the win, Hayden’s coverage was just good enough to force the incompletion even prior to the high-impact collision.
Nelson’s jarring blow was just the cherry on top of Hayden’s already well-made sundae.
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio praised Hayden’s efforts on Monday.
"“DJ is playing well, Del Rio said, per Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com. “He’s doing some good things. He was involved in several stops for us yesterday, and I feel like he’s has a good offseason, a good productive camp. I feel like he’s been pretty steady for us. We need that to continue.”"
Amerson also added to the hype surrounding Hayden, highlighting that ‘the sky’s the limit’ for the young defensive back.
Before this season, Hayden’s ceiling was no higher than a special teams ace.
Now in the final year of his rookie contract, Hayden will need to continue to put together strong performances from within the slot if he is going to return to Oakland in 2017. His game against the Ravens was a step in that direction.