ALAMEDA -- The Raiders targeted D.J. Hayden from the start and would have taken the Houston cornerback at No. 3 in the NFL draft had the right trade offer not been presented to Oakland.
So yeah, there were some tense moments in the nine selections between the trade and the the actual selection at No. 12. Especially with the New York Jets selecting a cornerback at No. 9…Alabama's Dee Milliner.
"We had an inkling that when you lose a player like Darrelle Revis, I could see where they would pick a corner," Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said of the Jets in a media conference at the Raiders' facility. "But they went with the other guy, and we got our guy."
Indeed. But nothing was as scary as what Hayden went through last November 6.
On a seemingly innocuous hit at practice, Hayden tore the large vein carrying blood from the lower half of the body back to his heart and he nearly died.
"When I was first out of the hospital…I was real depressed," Hayden said in a conference call with reporters who cover the Raiders. "I didn't even think I would walk again. I wasn't even thinking about football.
"I was just wondering if I would walk straight again. That’s what was on my mind, just walking straight again. I wasn’t worried about life after football, life after college, I was just worried about walking."
Hayden, who did not work out at the Combine, was rated as low as the seventh-ranked cornerback on several draftnik's boards. But his Pro Day at Houston more than opened eyes. He vaulted to the top of the class.
He blazed to a 4.33 40-yard dash time in front of 25 teams and flashed his shutdown-corner skill set. Hayden also met with at least seven teams on personal visits, including the Raiders.
"We got a chance to meet with him, talk football with him, and see how much information he could retain and how much volume of information he could take in," said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. "The guy’s all football. He loves football. He’s going to be a guy, obviously, you’ve seen with what he’s been through, that he’s willing to work, and those are all things…a lot of people talk about character, this guy’s the type of character that we’re looking for."
Plus, he's skilled. In 23 games at Houston, he had six interceptions. And last season, he returned two for touchdowns, from 75 and 97 yards.
Hayden is the first Houston defensive player to be drafted since the Raiders took cornerback Stanford Routt in the second round of the 2005 draft.
Of course, it all comes back to Hayden's health, and the Raiders believing there are no lingering effects from it as Hayden has been told the vein has healed.
"Of course we researched the health issues," McKenzie said. "Now, everything we got back from that standpoint was more than positive so it became a non-issue for us in that regard. He’s going to have to mentally go through it now, that’s the only issue we had.
"As far as what we liked about him -- the guy can cover. Point blank, he can cover. He can find the football so he does what we’re looking for in a cornerback. He’s a good cover corner who can get his hands on the football."
And as far as his heart, Hayden has people at home helping with his, let's call it, recuperation.
"I’m definitely looking forward to getting hit because I just want to see how it feels," he said. "But I should be fine. I’ve been play-fighting with all my friends and they’ve been punching me in my chest and I can take their punches so I’m pretty sure I’ll be all right. I just have to get out there and shake the rust off."