When D.J. Hayden went out to practice on November 6th, he was likely going into it with the mindset of taking yet another step towards his NFL career. The Houston defensive back was a former JUCO national champion, and had a fantastic first year with the Cougars. He had double digit defensed passes, forced five fumbles, eight tackles for loss, and two interceptions as a junior, and was off to a promising start of his senior season.
But when Hayden collided with a teammate, and then started to lose vision and feel cold, he knew something was wrong, and the team’s medical staff knew it was serious. You can read more about the situation here. It was discovered that he had torn his inferior vena cava, which is a serious condition that is often fatal as it results in a large amount of blood loss.
But Hayden recovered quickly, and was back on a field working out for scouts this spring at the Houston Pro Day. He impressed in the 40-yard dash and in drills, and has been medically cleared in his meetings with teams. But today, the hype for Hayden was taken to another level.
Mike Mayock told members of the NFL media on a conference call that Hayden was his number one CB on his draft board, and the 14th best prospect in the entire draft. This came as a shock to many, not only that Hayden was ranked so highly, but that he was above Dee Milliner and Xavier Rhodes, who are both widely considered to be the best corners in the draft by “experts”. But looking at Hayden’s tape, and considering what he’s achieved in his college career, it’s no surprise.
Hayden was dominant during his time at Houston, and only his injury and the level of competition he faced at Houston show up as consistent negatives about him as a prospect. In fact, look at his NFL.com draft profile, and just compare the length of his strengths profile versus his weaknesses. It’s dramatic the difference. And while that’s the simplest and most foolish of draft analysis techniques there is, consider what it means.
There’s not a lot of negatives to say about this young man. He’s got great technique, he explodes out of his backpedal, he tackles well, he forces fumbles, and reads the play and is almost always in the right place. Watch this tape, see how he reacts, how well he plays the ball, and his balance despite moving in multiple directions in a short period of time. Continue watching that tape, and you see how he holds up well, making plays on the ball, and making a positive impact.
Playing for Houston, Hayden didn’t receive much national attention. But with his journey back to health, and his fantastic offseason workouts, he’s now in the center of the spotlight.
And as of right now, I might agree with Mike Mayock. We may be looking at the best corner in this draft in D.J. Hayden. Because he has the tools and athletic ability to make an impact as a number one corner in the NFL, and that’s all the Buccaneers can ask for next weekend in the NFL Draft.