D.J. Hayden: 'I'm just truly blessed'

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
7:59
PM ET
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden is coming off his roughest day as a professional football player, having been burned for three passes worth 139 yards and two touchdowns to Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson in the Oakland Raiders' 49-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

But it pales in comparison to what he endured a year to the day Wednesday, when he nearly lost his life in a freak accident during a college practice at Houston when a heart valve tore in a collision.

Perspective? Yeah, Hayden has it ... and then some. And yet, he realizes he has to perform better on the field to justify the Oakland Raiders using the No. 12 overall pick on him, especially when general manager Reggie McKenzie has said he would have used the No. 3 pick on Hayden had he not been able to trade down.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Hayden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsOakland rookie CB D.J. Hayden had his first career interception against the Chargers in October.


"I'm just truly blessed," Hayden said Wednesday. "Truly blessed to be living right now. Truly blessed to be in the NFL right now. I'm just truly blessed.

"This past game I gave up two touchdowns and it's something I've got to put past me. I've got to keep going on to the next play and getting better."

Hayden has now given up 23 receptions on 38 targets for 386 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

"He had a tough day, but everybody's gone through it," said 16-year veteran Charles Woodson. "If you've played in the NFL you've had a long day before, but if you want to play a long time you have to get past it. D.J. was the 12th pick in the draft, nobody's going to feel sorry for him.

"He was in position to make plays so those are plays that he's going to have to make going forward ... he was right there step-for-step and he fell down one time, the other time I don't think he located the ball quick enough."

Hayden agreed.

"It's about how you respond to it," he said. "I could have made both plays; I've just got to finish the play. If I'd have finished the play, who knows what the outcome would have been."

Raiders coach Dennis Allen believes Hayden has the mental strength to push through. Earlier this season, Hayden picked off San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in the end zone after a rough start.

Plus, Hayden did not enjoy a full offseason of work, given that he was still healing physically from his life-threatening injury and a follow-up procedure to clear scar tissue from his abdomen.

"Listen, nothing in football can compare to what he had to go through and the type of mental toughness that it takes to battle through the injury," Allen said. "I have no doubt that he will be able to respond. He'll be able to come back and he'll perform at a high level.

"Being a rookie is one thing and that has its own unique challenges ... being a rookie after suffering through the setback that he had is a challenging thing but he's done a nice job."

Not that Hayden is satisfied. Not after being pulled from the Eagles game and finishing with 36 snaps in 60 plays, his fewest since Week 4.

"It doesn't surprise me because this is the NFL," he said. "Everybody is better, faster, stronger. I've just got to get better. I've got to step up to the competition and maximize my potential."

Up next, the Giants' Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

"Last week I went against DeSean Jackson so I don't think of it as no big test or nothing," Hayden said. "It's just our next opponent."

And it's all about perspective.

Paul Gutierrez

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter

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