Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden didn’t have the best rookie season.
He needed surgery in the spring as a follow-up to the freak heart injury that almost ended his life during his final year in college, which caused him to miss some offseason work with the team, and then his season came to an end after eight games when he went on injured reserve with a groin injury. The results when he did play were mixed, but the Raiders think that Hayden’s on track to remind everyone why they made him a first-round pick.
“D.J. saw just about everything, both in life and in football, happen to him in his rookie season,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said on 95.7, via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “From his surgeries to his injuries to what he’s overcome personall, physically, everything. He’s a great young man, working hard right now. He’s honing his technique, he looks explosive and he’s put on weight and strength. And he’s really focusing in on learning the little things in the defense so that he can play faster and be more aggressive on certain types of routes. He’s definitely on the upswing.”
Rookie cornerbacks can have hard transitions to the NFL under the best of circumstances, but being healthy never hurts. Hayden is healthy this offseason and Tarver said he’s added “weight and strength” in an effort to stop getting outmuscled by opposing receivers in his second season. If he makes that growth and linebacker Khalil Mack is as good as advertised, the Raiders defense will have a couple of cornerstones to build around for years to come.