ALAMEDA -- The thrill and realization that in a five-month stretch D.J. Hayden went from near death to being the No. 12 overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft took a while to set in.
"I don’t think it really hit me yet," Hayden said in his introductory media conference at the Raiders' facility Friday afternoon. "I don’t think it’ll hit me until I actually get on that field and put the helmet on. But I haven’t slept and (I'm) so excited just to come out here and start this next chapter in my life."
So enamored were the Raiders with Hayden, a preseason All-American at Houston, that general manager Reggie McKenzie said he would have taken the ball-hawking cornerback at No. 3 overall had Oakland not found a willing partner to trade down in the draft.
Even with Hayden's harrowing near-death experience.
Remember, it was just last Nov. 6 when the inferior vena cava, a large vein that pumps blood from the lower part of the body into the heart, was ruptured on a nondescript collision in practice. He was bleeding internally and had to undergo a "whole-body blood transfusion," according to Sports Illustrated.
He spent three days in ICU and was home in less than a week. But Hayden was not able to participate in the Combine, rather, his stock rose dramatically after his Pro Day at Houston, in which he blazed to a 4.33 40-time.
"The chances of it happening again are slim and none, just like it was before I got hurt," Hayden said. "It was just a freak accident. It’s never happened before on the football field. It usually happens in car accidents, and the chances of it happening again are slim and none. I’m not really worried about it. It’s just one of those freak deals that just happened."
The Raiders, obviously, like his freakish ability at cornerback, and Hayden is well aware of the Raiders' tradition of having elite corners.
"They had Charles Woodson and Willie Brown and Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes," Hayden said. "It’s almost like a DB factory. For me to even be considered to be a part of it, I’m just truly thankful and truly blessed."
So how does Hayden describe his play?
"I just like to make plays," he said. "If me stopping the run is making a play, then that’s what I’m going to do. I just like to help the team out as much as I can. Basically just overall make plays.
"Players I idolized playing corner were Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson and Darrelle Revis. I’ve been playing corner since I can remember. When I was little I played linebacker but then, once I got to high school I started to really play corner."
Then what does he have to work on, football-wise?
"I just got to work on preparation and my eyes," he said. "Eye discipline. Just overall, get better, man. Just try to come in, just competing and just become a better ballplayer."
The Raiders signed a pair of veteran corners in Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter. So it makes you wonder if the Raiders, or even Hayden himself, envision the rookie winning a starting gig. Hayden, who will wear No. 25, is expected to play in the slot as well.
"I would love to but I know that I’m just going to have to come in here and compete just like everybody else because I’m a rookie coming in trying to take a veteran’s job," Hayden said. "They got a family to feed, too. So, I’m just going to come in and compete and just whatever happens, happens."
Of course, it all comes back to his injury, and how it put things in perspective for Hayden.
"I just learned that definitely my faith has gotten me through this whole process," he said. "I learned that now I’m not taking as much for granted as I used to, because you never know. You never know when your time is going to end. Everything in this world is temporary. You never know when somebody is going to come bomb us.
"Crazy stuff happens in our world every day, so I just try to soak it all in and just do right by everybody. Because you don’t want to do wrong by everybody and then when they’re gone, you’re going to wish you did would have done right by them. I just try to do right by everybody."