Hayden was on his way to being a first-round pick when a freak collision in practice left him with a tear of the inferior vena cava, which carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. Luckily, doctors were able to fix the issue and he is on his way to making a full recovery.
Now, after months of uncertainty about his NFL future, Hayden is back on track and making his way back up draft boards, even into the first-round discussion once again.
Alabama’s Dee Milliner still seems to be the consensus No. 1 corner on most team’s draft boards, but Hayden is a hot commodity and could be an impact player even as a rookie.
The Patriots could definitely use some help in the secondary, after finishing the past two seasons near the bottom of the league in pass defense. Adding Hayden to a unit that already includes Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty and Adrian Wilson would really solidify the secondary and add some insurance in case Ras-I Dowling is unable to return to health.
Bill Belichick may not be interested in investing such a high pick in another cornerback but, if Hayden returns to form, the Patriots will come away with an impact player and another steal on draft day.
Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots draft prospect every day from March 27 up until the start of the NFL Draft on April 25.Hayden is the 25th player in that series.
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 191 pounds
*40 Time: 4.42 seconds
*Hayden did not participate in the NFL Combine. His 40 time was calculated by NFL Network’s Gil Brandt at Houston’s pro day.
Like a few of the top prospects in this year’s draft class, Hayden attended junior college for two seasons before heading to his hometown school at Houston. Hayden made a big impact in his first season with the Cougars, leading Houston with 11 passes defended to go along with two interceptions and five forced fumbles, earning Conference USA’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year. He followed that up with a terrific senior season, although it was cut short by that freak injury. He had eight passes defended, four interceptions and two defensive touchdowns in nine games in 2012.
Hayden is still working his way back from that frightening injury, but should be back to full health by the time the regular season begins. He is a bit undersized, but Hayden displays enough physicality at the line and has the leaping ability to compensate. His speed and sound technique should make him a solid third or even second option at corner for most teams. The Patriots might use him more in nickel and dime situations next season with eyes to move him into a starting role on the outside if Talib bolts in free agency.
There is a good chance. He has seen a steady rise on many draft boards in the weeks leading up to the draft, but Dee Milliner is still the top cornerback at this time. With a serious need for secondary help, many teams will be looking at corners in the first round. Hayden could land anywhere from the middle of the first all the way deep into the second round, meaning the Saints (15th overall), Steelers (17th), Giants (19th), Bengals (21st), Vikings (23rd and 25th) and Broncos (28th) could all snatch him up.
Strengths: Hayden has excellent speed and displays great acceleration when tracking receivers and ball carriers. He reads the receiver in routes and doesn’t get caught peeking in the backfield. He also doesn’t offer much of a cushion downfield and anticipates the ball very well. He has very active hands when pursuing ball carriers and has a powerful punch at the ball. He is very stable in his backpedal and is very fluid when changing direction. He’s also very persistent in pursuit of ball carriers down the field, never giving up on the play.
Weaknesses: He does lack the ideal size for an NFL corner, but his technique and speed help to compensate. He lacks the strength to shed bigger blockers at times, giving runners more of a lane to work with on the outside. He can get caught making contact early even when he has blanket coverage, which may yield some unnecessary penalties early in his career.
Scout Hayden for yourself below.
Next Up: Robert Woods, WR, USC Other potential prospects: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State | Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee | Justin Pugh, OG, Syracuse | Alex Okafor, DE, Texas | Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor | Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina | Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia | David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State | Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee | Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut | Margus Hunt, DT, SMU | Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M | Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU | Barrett Jones, C, Alabama | DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State | Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech | Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama | Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia | Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers | Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State | Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Photo via Facebook/D.J. Hayden