Oakland Raiders second-year cornerback D.J. Hayden played in just eight games as a rookie last season, and he needed to undergo surgery this offseason to shed a stress fracture. Even though he was out of his walking boot by July, he’s still behind in his recovery and had to be placed on the team’s active/PUP list. It’s been a nightmare start to his career, and some Raiders fans are already worried that the 24-year-old Houston product will end up being a big first-round bust. The 2014 season was once tabbed as a breakout season for the potential shutdown corner, but his inability to get healthy could make a worst-case scenario unfold that would cause the 2014 season to be as much of a lost year as his disappointing 2013 campaign.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie stated that there still isn’t a clear timetable for Hayden return, but he is “optimistic” that the second-year CB will be healthy by the time the regular season starts. Call me a cynic, but that doesn’t sound very optimistic. The fact that McKenzie can’t tell us for sure if Hayden will be ready for Week 1 is a cause for concern, and we can only think the worst when it comes to Hayden’s injuries, because he hasn’t given us any reason for optimism early on in his career.
Hayden is expected to be the team’s CB2 across from solid free-agent signing Tarell Brown, and fellow San Francisco 49ers veteran CB Carlos Rogers has slot duties locked down. Those two signings were critical and can hold down the fort, but the Raiders need Hayden to be healthy and effective.
Small-school CBs have a tough time adjusting to the league, and it took Leodis McKelvin a few years to be a good corner after making a living as a special team’s player. When he did see the field last year, Hayden struggled badly and didn’t provide any playmaking ability with just two passes defended to his name. He’s a talented player who can be a legit CB1 in this league (I mean, look at where he was drafted), but he’s had an unfortunate start to his career. We can only hope for the best, because there isn’t much to go off of without a set timetable.