As the NFL draft has gotten closer and closer, the stock of certain prospects has risen and fallen dramatically. While it is certainly entertaining, it makes predicting where these prospects will actually land extremely difficult.
One such prospect is D.J. Hayden, cornerback from Houston. He came to Houston during his junior year, after spending two years at Navarro Junior College. He immediately fit in as a shutdown corner and Conference USA star.
However, unique injury issues and questions about the level of competition have put a damper on Hayden’s stellar, albeit brief, NCAA career.
Hayden has been predicted to go anywhere from the first to the fifth round in mock drafts and could end up in any number of places in the end—standard when it comes to the draft.
Full Name: Derek Sherrad Hayden
Date of Birth: June 27, 1990
Hometown: Houston, Texas
High School: Ft. Bend Elkins
Due to some transfer issues, Hayden was forced to sit out his senior year of football, which would cause a ripple effect in his college decisions, as he was forced to go to Navarro Junior College for two years before finally getting a chance to play Division I football in 2011.
The perseverance prepared Hayden for what would literally be the biggest fight of his life: a unique heart injury during a practice in 2012 that not only threatened his playing career, but his life as well.
2011: 11 games, 66 total tackles, one sack, eight tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, 13 passes defensed, two interceptions, one touchdown.
2012: nine games, 61 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, 12 passes defensed, four interceptions, two touchdowns.
2012: 1 punt return, 11 yards
Hayden’s production at Houston has been impressive, albeit on a smaller stage than NFL scouts would like. After earning Second Team All-Conference USA honors during his junior year, Hayden was well on his way to an even more impressive year in 2012 before his season-ending heart injury.
Despite missing the final three games, Hayden was named to the All-Conference USA First Team at the end of the season.
Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.
Weight: 191 pounds
Arm length: 31.125”
Pro Day Results
40-Yard Dash: 4.40 seconds
Vertical Leap: 33.5”
Broad Jump: 120.0”
Hayden’s recovery from his heart injury kept him from participating at the combine, but he had recovered well enough to run an impressive few drills during the Houston pro day, including a blistering 4.40-second 40-yard dash.
Hayden’s heart injury was a torn vena cava. The vena cava is the main blood vessel, which attaches to the back of the heart. In Hayden’s case, the vessel was almost completely torn off, an injury that has a 95 percent fatality rate.
Trevon Stewart, the freshman cornerback whose knee caused Hayden’s life-threatening injury, was a fan of Hayden’s when he was at Navarro Junior College. Hayden took him under his wing when Stewart came to Houston in 2012.
Team physician Dr. Walter Lowe stated in November that this kind of injury has never been seen in football and is most common in high-speed car crashes.
Years earlier, Hayden was limited to playing on the scout team during his senior year of high school at Elkins. He had transferred to a private school during his junior year and many of his credits did not transfer back to Elkins when he returned for his senior year.
Due to the academic discrepancy, Hayden could not play on the Elkins varsity team that fall.
Finally got tape of D.J. Hayden…I'm a big fan. Smooth, explosive & tough... he can play the ball in the air. Hopefully medical checks out
Hayden (5-foot-11⅛, 191 pounds) is an easy mover in coverage, with quick feet and a rare burst to close on the ball, but his playmaking instincts are what set him apart. Hayden (61 tackles, 8 pass breakups, 4 INT in 2012) has great eyes in coverage and knows how to manufacture turnovers, which is something that holds a lot of value at the next level.
Avoids receiver blocks in run support and breaks down to wrap up a leg before the ballcarrier can head upfield. Used on blind side blitzes because of his speed, and shows the aptitude to create turnovers by unsuspecting quarterbacks. Tackling is stronger than his wiry frame would predict, allowing him to separate the ball from its carrier in addition to dragging down opponents.
Average size and strength won’t make him an elite prospect in the minds of scouts, because he will be at a disadvantage against better pro receivers both at the line of scrimmage and downfield.
Per CBS Sports:
Hayden has been fully cleared by doctors, but a life-threating experience will still give some teams caution. Lacks much experience against elite competition and will have a significant learning curve in the NFL.
Will occasionally wrap up too high and doesn't have elite strength to hold on which can result in a missed tackle.
While it’s hard to find weaknesses in Hayden’s tape, he’s still a very risky prospect—especially if he’s taken in the first round. He has all the necessary instincts and cover skills necessary, and if his sub-4.40 40 shows up on the field, he’ll have the physical skills necessary to hold up to NFL-level competition.
However, there are still questions as to whether Hayden will ever be the same player again and how much of a learning curve he’s going to have during his rookie year.
No matter the case, it’s hard not to root for him.