D.J. Hayden is actually good.
Similar to the section about Perry Riley, “buying” this one probably also feels reactionary. But hear me out.
I’ve been just as big of a D.J. Hayden detractor as anyone, but I’m also a results-driven individual. Take Bill Musgrave, for example; go through my tweets, and you’ll find plenty of Musgrave criticism. But look at the Raiders offense in 2016 — it’s not perfect, but Musgrave has made big improvements this year.
Back to Hayden — he’s been awful in the past, obviously. But for three weeks out of five, he’s been quite good. Maybe even four out of five weeks.
So why throw out three bad years and say he is suddenly good after only three or four good games? I’ll give you a few reasons:
Now that he doesn’t have the pressure of being the No. 1 corner — and also face the opposing team’s top WR — that certainly makes his life much easier.
Also, sometimes it takes players quite a while to get the hang of things. Look at Sam Bradford, who is balling out in Minnesota after six rough years to start his career. Or Gary Barnidge, who never caught more than 13 passes over seven seasons before hauling in 79 in 2015.
Perhaps it’s just good old fashioned progression. A player working hard at his craft, taking his lumps and bruises, studying film, putting in the work at practice, and simply just getting better.
Finally, similar to the first reason given (about not having to be a No. 1 corner anymore), maybe the move to being a slot corner has allowed him to thrive. Hayden has always had excellent speed and lateral quickness, so his new role seems to fit him much better than defending wide receivers on the outside.
Whatever the reason may be — be it one of or all of the reasons mentioned, or maybe even none of them — there is no denying that Hayden has taken significant strides this year.
Call me an optimist, but the Raiders are 4-1, winning close games, and tied for first place in the division. Good things are happening, so why not believe that this is one of them?