The Oakland Raiders, a franchise that has been hampered by losing seasons over the past decade, are trying to find hope for the future. From principal owner Mark Davis and all the way down to general manager Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders continue to find themselves transitioning away from their years of losing with the hope of returning to the "Raider Way."
Yet, the pressure to turn this franchise back into a winner is as high as it's ever been. With a fan base that continues to uphold expectations upon this franchise, the remaining question ultimately is when this franchise will turn it around.
When the 2013 NFL draft was vastly approaching, anyone who had any familiarity with the Raiders knew this could be a critical moment for the franchise. Despite the lack of elite talent in this draft, it is evident that there were many more prospects in the later rounds who showed more potential.
As a result, McKenzie made the decision to trade down nine spots in the draft and select cornerback D.J Hayden of Houston. Hayden was the second cornerback selected in the first round, but the case could be made that his athleticism and skill set makes him the best player to revamp the Raiders' struggling secondary.
Yet, whether we ever see his talents impact the Raiders the way they hope remains to be seen. Despite being undoubtedly worth a first-round selection, his unfortunate, and scary, injury suggests otherwise.
Hayden's collision with a teammate during a Houston practice turned out to be much more than a typical injury that players have while playing this game. Hayden took a brutal hit to the chest, which tore the inferior vena cava of his heart.
The injury was deemed life-threatening, as he lost a large quantity of blood and also the sight in his left eye. Hayden had to spend the end of 2012 not preparing for the draft, but instead fighting for his own life.
Those obstacles didn't stop him from being coveted by several teams in the first round of the draft. Teams clearly displayed their belief that his talent will overcome his health issues.
That belief will be put to the test, with Hayden having surgery to clean out the scar tissue in his abdomen. Hayden will miss the remainder of the offseason's voluntary activities with the Raiders, and that throws a wrench into head coach Dennis Allen's plans to get his new toy plenty of reps.
Hayden's latest injury will be related by many to last year's medical issue. Due to those concerns, the Raiders are already dealing with internal questions about whether this is simply yet another misfortune in a long line of such misfortunes that the organization has dealt with during the course of their losing seasons.
Should the Raiders already regret their decision to select Hayden with the 12th overall pick in the draft?
While there are concerns, we need to avoid a rush to judgement. The Raiders' front office accomplished something in this year's draft that they didn't during the end of former owner Al Davis' tenure: Utilizing the draft board in their favor by trading back and gaining plenty of draft selections to fill the variety of needs across the board.
There are an unquestionable amount of improvements needed on both sides of the football, with nearly every position needing potential improvement. Based on his success in college and his 4.33 performance at the 40-yard dash, Hayden can be the dynamic cover corner that this defense could use.
Ultimately, the concerns about his current health, along with his prognosis for the future, will be the likely determining factor regarding the success of this pick. If Hayden checked out OK physically with both the Raiders' doctors along with the medical staffs of other teams, there is justification for taking Hayden so high in the draft.
Fair or unfair, the selection of Hayden can eventually make or break McKenzie's tenure as general manager. The years of Raiders' disappointment leave little room for error, especially when it concerns a first-round pick.
Hayden could become the next elite cornerback in the NFL or nothing more than a player who has a short career in the NFL. Before we rush to conclusions, however, let's allow Hayden to return to the team in July as he looks to prove that his special talent will override any questions about his long-term health.
Matt Miselis is a veteran NFL columnist for BleacherReport. Follow him on twitter @MattMiselisNFL
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