The Oakland Raiders are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project under general manager Reggie McKenzie, and many fans of the team were hoping that McKenzie was going to get an impact player with the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Some of those same fans, as well as some members of the media, have questioned the Raiders' decision to first trade back in the first round and then take a player who very nearly died several months ago.
Well, that segment of Raider Nation needs to take a deep breath and just relax, because the selection of Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden was a solid pick by McKenzie.
First off, there's no disputing that the secondary was a huge area of need. Before the acquisition of Hayden, the Raiders' projected starters at cornerback in 2013 were Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins.
Porter is a decent cornerback, but he missed nearly the entire 2012 season due to an unexplained seizure he had while a member of the Denver Broncos. Doctors still haven't figured out why he had it, and there's no guarantee it won't happen again, although Porter told the Raiders' website recently that he's "100 percent."
The other starter, Mike Jenkins, ranked 94th among NFL cornerbacks in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. He was burned so many times in Dallas that he had to start wearing a fire-retardant jersey.
OK, maybe I made that last part up, but you get my point.
In a pass-heavy NFL and a division where the Raiders play Peyton Manning twice a year, that duo isn't going to cut it.
Second, in trading back the Raiders were able to add a second-round pick, recouping the one the team surrendered in the disastrous trade for quarterback Carson Palmer. the Raiders parlayed that pick into Florida State tackle Menelik Watson, bolstering an offensive line that needed a boost.
Some have bemoaned the fact that a second-round pick was "all" the Raiders got for dropping nine spots, but in a soft trade market it really wasn't a bad deal, especially when you consider that Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported before the draft that Oakland was prepared to select Hayden with the third overall pick.
Yes, there's no denying the bizarre circumstances of the injury that nearly ended not only Hayden's football career, but also his life.
In a November practice with the Cougars, Hayden collided with a teammate. It was the sort of collision that happens thousands of times over the course of a season, at campuses all over the country.
Except this was no routine collision. The hit ruptured Hayden's interior vena cava, an injury that usually occurs in automobile accidents and that is almost always fatal.
Hayden very nearly bled to death without shedding a drop of blood.
As Peter King of Sports Illustrated reports, that injury caused more than one NFL team to remove Hayden from their draft boards completely, fearful that his brush with death would change how Hayden plays the game.
Hayden told King that he understands those concerns, but that when the time comes he's confident he'll play the game the same way he always has—all out.
"Great question. I definitely understand that. You don't know 'til you get out there. The chance of it happening again are slim and none. But I can tell you I think the more reps I get, the more comfortable I will be and the better I will do. I am not worried about it."
McKenzie didn't share those concerns, telling King that Hayden's injury became a "non-issue" after the Oakland medical staff cleared him. McKenzie also praised Hayden's ability while speaking with Monte Poole of the Bay Area News Group.
"His man coverage skills are what set him apart. He's quick and fast, tough and aggressive. We want a difference-maker. That's what he is. He can cover, point blank. He can find the football."
McKenzie isn't alone in that assessment. According to Rotoworld, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, Greg Cosell of NFL Films and Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports all had Hayden ranked as the top player at his position on their draft boards.
This isn't to say that there isn't a slight measure of risk involved with drafting D.J. Hayden. However, assuming he can put his injury behind him, the odds of such a thing happening again are beyond astronomical.
Based purely on his talent and where the Raiders drafted him, the 12th overall pick is a very reasonable price tag for arguably the draft's best cornerback. Throw in the extra pick that Oakland turned into Watson, and it's almost a steal.
So settle down, Raiders fans. This time Reggie McKenzie got it right.
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