Oakland Raiders: DeSean Jackson
A year ago, Hayden, the Raiders' top pick of the 2013 draft, was not only still recuperating from the near-fatal heart injury that ended his college career early, but he was also recovering from a follow-up surgery to clear out resultant scar tissue.
"(Last year), in the OTAs, because seeing all my teammates out there working out and I'm hooked up to IVs, it might mess up anybody's head a little bit, but I'm way over that now."
The Raiders have just as much, if not more, confidence in Hayden as the team gathers today for an open-to-the-media practice to kick off Week 2 of the three-week, 10-practice OTAs.
Even if, after having a short-circuited beginning to his rookie season, Hayden's year came to a premature close with a trip to injured reserve after just eight games due to a groin injury.
You get the sense the Raiders want Hayden to claim the right cornerback position, with newly-signed Tarell Brown locking it down on the left side and Carlos Rogers coming in to cover the slot receiver in nickel situations.
"I think he's light years ahead of where he was at this point last year," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said of Hayden. "Not just from a physical standpoint, but really from a mental standpoint too. I think he realizes now that everything's going to be fine, he's going to be OK, and now he can really focus on getting better as a football player.
"I like what I've seen out of D.J. so far. (He) still has a lot of things to learn, (he's) still kind of a quasi-rookie out there, but I'm looking forward to his development and I think there are some good things in store for him."
In fact, it's as if Hayden is a "bonus" draft pick for the Raiders, one with half-a-season of NFL experience, including two starts, and an interception already under his belt.
"Well, I mean, he's not necessarily starting on ground zero like most of these rookies are so he's got a little bit of a head start, but yet he still has a lot of room to grow," Allen said. "There was a reason why we took him where we took him last year. We feel great about the player and we're excited to see how he can develop (from) last year."
Hayden had a "burn rate" of 60.6 last season, per Stats, Inc., giving up 23 receptions on 38 targets for 386 yards and three touchdowns. And the last time he was on the field, against the Philadelphia Eagles, Hayden surrendered 139 yards and two TDs on three catches, two to Riley Cooper and one to DeSean Jackson.
Hayden acknowledged, though, that being mentally healthy now might be more important than his physical well being.
"It really is because, if you know what to do, your natural reaction is you're just going to do it," Hayden said. "You're already athletic enough to do it; you just have to do it."
Still, the Raiders are doing research on Jackson while playing a wait-and-see game as no visit has been scheduled yet. Jackson is, however, scheduled to visit the Washington Redskins on Tuesday.
Free safety Charles Woodson, who is entering his 17th season, on Friday told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game that he hoped general manager Reggie McKenzie brought Jackson to Oakland, after necessary background checks.
“But when you talk about bringing in a guy as talented as he is, and you have that opportunity, I think you take a shot at it,” Woodson said. “And I think where we are as a team, we need all the playmakers we can have, and adding that guy would definitely help take us to the next level.”
Jackson, who played at nearby Cal, is coming off a career-best season in which he caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. He would be the deep threat the Raiders want and need. Plus, the Raiders still have ample salary cap space.
But with Jackson being reportedly linked to gang activity in his native Los Angeles and, in the wake of the Aaron Hernandez situation in New England, the NFL in general and teams in particular are especially sensitive to players’ off-the-field relationships.
Raiders fullback Marcel Reece joined Woodson in pushing Jackson, the two-time Pro Bowler took to Twitter to defend Jackson.
Unbelievable to try and pin a negative rap on someone just because you may not like them...don't believe the negativity! @DeseanJackson10— Marcel Reece (@CelReece45) March 29, 2014
Ok...I just couldn't allow my boy @DeseanJackson10 get trashed without saying anything. Back in hiding I go for the rest of the day!— Marcel Reece (@CelReece45) March 29, 2014
Tv is speculating I'm speaking from experience known @DeseanJackson10 a long time and he's always been the same— Marcel Reece (@CelReece45) March 29, 2014
The 5-feet-10, 178-pound Jackson, who is only 27, has been the subject of a social media push by Raiders fans using the hashtag #DJaxToOakland.
Raiders special teams coach Bobby April also has a history with Jackson, having coached in Philadelphia when Jackson was weaned off being the Eagles’ punt returner.
Free safety Charles Woodson, who will be entering his 17th season, told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game on Friday that Jackson would be welcomed in Oakland after the Eagles cut him earlier in the day.
"Bring him in, I think he would look good in the silver and black," Woodson said. "Of course I know the business side of it, but I've watched this guy and what he is, is a dynamic football player. What they're talking [about] as far as off-the-field stuff, I have no clue about. The team would have to do their homework as far as that's concerned.
"But when you talk about bringing in a guy as talented as he is, and you have that opportunity, I think you take a shot at it. And I think where we are as a team, we need all the playmakers we can have, and adding that guy would definitely help take us to the next level."
Reports have linked Jackson to gangs in his Los Angeles-area home. He has also been seen as a diva in the locker room. But he is coming off a career year in which he caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.
Jackson, who knows the Bay Area well having played collegiately at Cal, is still relatively young at 27, and, as Woodson noted, he'd be the play-making, game-changing weapon the Raiders could use to jumpstart the revamped offense under new quarterback Matt Schaub.
But at just 5-feet-10, 178 pounds, you have to wonder how many big hits he has left in him to absorb, let alone his baggage. McKenzie places a lot of value in chemistry and did admit he could take a chance on such a big-money, big-name player, though he was not talking specifically about Jackson.
"As long as he's a really good player that we think is really going to elevate our team," McKenzie told reporters at the meetings, according to the Bay Area News Group. "I mean, big money, name is not the major issue; it's, what else he can bring to the table?
"Production is going to be a lot, but there's many other characteristics that fall into that."
Such as reputation?
"That's what you've got to sit down and figure that out, you know?" McKenzie said. "Reputation is what you've done in the past."
As far as Woodson is concerned, though, signing Jackson would have been a no-brainer for the late Al Davis.
"There is no question in my mind that this is the type of player that Al would bring in," Woodson said. "You hear about the off-field stuff but I don't think Al would concern himself with that too much. I think Al would do his homework. But I think he would take a serious hard look, and if there was an opportunity I think he would bring that guy in.
"DeSean can stretch the field, and we know how much Al loved having guys that can stretch the field. So I don't think there is any question he would bring him in."