D.J. Hayden Enters Make-or-Break Year as Key Player on Raiders Defense

The Oakland Raiders undoubtedly improved the talent of the roster this offseason, but they didn’t address the cornerback position or bring in a top pass-rusher. After finishing last in the NFL in points allowed last season, the Raiders focused on rebuilding the front seven.  

That means the No. 1 cornerback on the roster is 2013 first-round draft pick D.J. Hayden and the top pass-rusher is 2014 first-round pick Khalil Mack. That should be a good thing, but Hayden has yet to develop into a shutdown cornerback.

Hayden enters a make-or-break year as a key player on a defense hoping to improve significantly in 2015. It’s reasonable to think that a flop by Hayden could mean a flop by the defense and a flop by the defense could mean a flop for the entire team.

If there were one player other than Mack that can take Oakland’s defense to the next level, it’s Hayden. He’s still talented despite having missed so much time with various injuries, but the Raiders didn’t bring in veteran safety nets this offseason as they have for the last two years.

Hayden played 10 games in 2014, but in his final five games, he was targeted 30 times and allowed 22 receptions for 298 yards and three touchdowns with two passes defensed and no interceptions. It’s hard to say he really finished strong in 2014, but the source was probably referring to his development rather than his performance.

General manager Reggie McKenzie said in February that he’d add depth at the position, but that it was time for young players to step up, per Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area:

We like what our young corners have done…Veterans like (Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers) are on the team to help bring those young guys along. I think they did that...I think it’s their turn…I think the young guys are ready…They’re at a point now where they understand how to ...

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