NAPA -– A draft grade doesn’t come in after a selection is made. A prospect deserves time to develop and adjust to the NFL game before concrete assessments are made.
Two or three years is the industry standard.
Using that timetable, cornerback DJ Hayden needs to show the Raiders something this season. The No. 12 overall pick in the 2013 draft enters his third season nearly 10 months from his last rehab stint, a rare bout of health that should encourage development.
Hayden is an immensely talented cornerback -– he has solid footwork and speed to spare -- yet remains behind second-year players Keith McGill and TJ Carrie in the pecking order.
Head coach Jack Del Rio says he’s pleased with all young cornerbacks atop his depth chart. General manager Reggie McKenzie knows how important this season is for Hayden. Another injury-riddled or unhealthy season will inch Hayden ever closer to bust status.
“Every year is a put-up-or-shut-up year,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “The way players look at it, contracts start coming up in years three and four. Usually year three is the time where you show who you are as an NFL player. In that regard, this is an opportunity to show the league, ‘This is who I am as a player.’”
Hayden needs to do it in Del Rio and coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s defense, which asks cornerbacks to play a physical, bump-and-run style of coverage. He has to be aggressive, confident and make plays on the ball.
The Raiders were comfortable going young at cornerback -– a veteran addition after roster cuts remains an option should things not work out -– because of the players already on the roster.
“We believe there’s more talent at cornerback,” McKenzie said. “What we lack is experience. Last year, we played guys (Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers) who had been there and done it. They were experienced players. But, as far as talent, we feel pretty good about our talent.”
Hayden should be a major reason why.
A solid preseason could put him into the starting lineup, but he needs to perform consistently well on Sundays to live up to his lofty draft status. McKenzie heaped pressure on the young man early on, saying he would've taken Hayden third overall had the Raiders not been able to trade down to No. 12 in the 2013 draft. Hayden has missed 14 games in his first two years and most all of his first two offseason programs. He hasn't had much time to develop and play consistently, but he needs to make the most of this season and at least start heading in the right direction.