Oakland Raiders: Was D.J. Hayden the Right Choice?

Misguided trades and underperforming draft picks are exactly the kind of mistakes that get an NFL executive fired.

The Matt Flynn deal nailed the misguided trade part. Now, Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie is hoping that top pick D.J. Hayden won’t fall into that second group.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling recently released a list of the top 15 rookies through the first six weeks of the season. Hayden, who the Raiders selected No. 12 overall last spring, was no where to be found.

Two cornerbacks made the list in Tyrann Mathieu (No. 5) and Marcus Cooper (No. 12). The Arizona Cardinals grabbed Mathieu in the third round, and the San Francisco 49ers snapped up Cooper with the third to final pick of the draft.

The 49ers ultimately cut Cooper late in training camp and he’s made his early impact for the Kansas City Chiefs. Even though San Francisco missed on Cooper, they still managed to bolster the team’s secondary through the 2013 draft.

Safety Eric Reed cracks the list at No. 7. Wesseling wrote of the former LSU standout: “It’s not a hyperbole to suggest that Reid is a play-making upgrade on Dashon Goldson, a first-team All-Pro in 2012” and a two-time Pro-Bowler.

That’s not bad for a 21-year-old who was playing in the SEC last year. It’s also a lot more than can be said about Hayden, who was picked six spots ahead of Reid.

A pair of plays from Oakland’s 24-7 loss in Week 6 were telling of how 2013 has unfolded for Hayden.

On Kansas City’s final drive of the first half, Hayden got called for an unnecessary pass-interference call on third-and-10 from the Oakland 24-yard line. The Chiefs promptly scored to tie the game at 7-7 going into half time. The play was particularly frustrating because the Raiders defense had otherwise stymied the Kansas City offensive attack in the first half.

Midway through the third quarter, however, Hayden stepped up to make a huge play with the Chiefs driving. The rookie forced a fumble that was recovered by Charles Woodson. The cornerback has now forced two takeaways on the season.

As Peter King of MMQB recently tweeted, it’s still much too early to be judging a young player like Hayden. In defending Trent Richardson, King pointed out that Peyton Manning started his career 3-13 with 28 picks in his first season.

Manning torched Hayden back in Week 3 as the cornerback turned in arguably his worst performance as a Raider in his toughest assignment to date. King is right. There’s still time for Hayden to eliminate the pointless penalties from his game and continue producing takeaways.

However, McKenzie and head Coach Dennis Allen will need Hayden to make those changes fast. Their jobs could be counting on it.