This pick is a little bit left field given that right now D.J. Hayden is third on the depth chart for the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, D.J. Hayden could end up trying to fill a big hole on the Jaguars defense. Hayden is currently the favourite to replace Aaron Colvin as the slot cornerback. Colvin left the team during free agency, joining the Houston Texans. Covering the slot receivers can be one of the hardest jobs in football and Hayden is going to have to step up this year.
What did Colvin provide?
Colvin’s stats sheet on pro football reference does not do him justice. Colvin registered 37 tackles, zero interceptions, five pass defences and one fumble recovery in his 2017 season. However, when you look deeper his true value to this team becomes clear. According to pro football focus, Colvin allowed just 0.76 yards per cover snap. That ranks him fifth best among the 34 cornerbacks who saw over 200 snaps covering the slot receiver. His value is further underlined by the fact that the Texans penned him too a four-year $34 million contract with $18 million guaranteed. If he is as good covering outside receivers as he is in the slot that deal will be a bargain for the Texans. However, for an unproven outside cornerback to receive that kind of money shows just how good teams thought he was last season.
What about Hayden?
Hayden has had an interesting NFL career. In college he ruptured his inferior vena cava on a play, an injury normally associated with car crashes and a high fatality rate. Despite having surgery and not being able to perform at the combine, Hayden was taken 12th overall by the Oakland Raiders the 2013 NFL draft. However, Hayden struggled to ever live up to the talent he had shown in college. In his four years in Oakland, he played in 45 games, starting 25, and registered 161 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Last season, Hayden signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions but lost out on the starting job to Nevin Lawson. He then also lost on out on the slot cornerback role to Quandre Diggs. He did manage to end up splitting time with Lawson by the end of the season, registering 35 tackles and two forced fumbles.
The Jaguars signed Hayden to a three-year $19 million contract, with $9.45 million guaranteed. Coming into a defence this good has its upsides an downsides. On the positive side, he is playing with a quality at every position, from the defensive line to his fellow defensive backs. On the downside, that brings pressure. You cannot be the weak point in a defence or you will not be playing in it for long. Coming in to replace Colvin, who was so strong covering the slot, is a big ask for Hayden. His time in Detroit is not a good indicator given that he was beaten out for the slot job by Diggs. However, this is a new team with new coaches and hopefully Hayden can have more success in this role in the AFC South.
Could he play outside?
Another reason that Hayden will be important is in the case of any injury to either Jalen Ramsey or A.J. Bouye. The Jaguars defence were extremely healthy in 2017, and that luck is often not repeated. If that is the case the Jaguars will need someone to step up and immediately contribute. Despite his lackluster career so far, Hayden is the next-best corner on this team and would be the man expected to step up. There is next to no chance that Hayden gets to play outside if both of those are healthy but in the case of injury it would be the most sensible call. Well it is the most sensible call unless he is playing so well in the slot that they cannot afford to lose him there. Either way there is a good chance that D.J. Hayden is a big part of whether this defence can be as successful in 2018 as it was in 2017.
Photo credit: Jaguars Wire. USA Today