Cornerback DJ Hayden
The defensive package might have changed, but for cornerback DJ Hayden, the job remains the same; when your number is called, go out on the field and produce.
After being one of the Oakland Raiders base cornerbacks in 2015, the former first-round pick has transitioned into his role as the team's nickel cornerback, and through the first quarter of the 2016 regular season, it's a role that Hayden has thrived in.
"When my number gets called on, when they call nickel, I have to go in there and execute," said Hayden following the Raiders 28-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Now with teams often times utilizing multiple-receiver sets, Hayden isn't on the field that much less than he was last year – he played 70 percent of the defensive snaps against the Ravens – but he certainly looks comfortable in his new role, and he has the production to back it up, both in coverage, and in the open field.
Hayden finished the Week 4 win over the Ravens with six total tackles and one pass defensed, and his play caught the eye of his head coach as well.
"DJ is playing well," Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "He's doing some good things. He was involved in several stops for us yesterday, and I feel like he's had a good offseason, a good productive camp. I feel like he's been pretty steady for us. We need that to continue. Obviously, there are things that on the back end, we're going to deep better as we keep going. We've got good people, we really do. We've got good guys, and they're accountable, and they want to be really good."
So after finding intermittent success out wide, what has clicked for No. 25 since moving inside as part of the nickel package? Fellow cornerback David Amerson thinks it was just a matter of finding a position that fit him and his skillset.
"I think everybody knows that DJ has all the tools, and I always said, once he just gets it here (pointing to his head), once it clicks, I think he's going to be just as good as anybody," Amerson said. "I definitely see that he's comfortable at that nickel, and he's starting to come into his own, man, and the sky's the limit, for real."
That comfort has been evident, and with Hayden's firm hold on the nickel cornerback position, Amerson believes that he will only continue to grow in his new role.
"I think he's very quick, and like I said, he's comfortable there," Amerson explained. "He communicates, and I feel like he's comfortable right there."
After being selected No. 12 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, Hayden is in the midst of his fourth season as a Raider, and while he's only 26 years old, the athletic cornerback is one of the more seasoned members of the Oakland defense. Hayden's road has not be an easy one, and through his three-plus seasons in Silver and Black, he's seen the team grow, both on and off the field.
"We've grown so much, man," Hayden said. "As far as our execution; we're playing smarter. We're just out there playing. We're not thinking, we're just reacting, and 'DC' [Derek Carr] and the offense, they're doing a hell of a job out there making plays, 'Crab' [Michael Crabtree] going to get the ball, and we're growing, man."
Hayden is right, this Oakland Raiders team is growing. You have to look no further than their 3-0 road record to see that, but individually Hayden is growing too, especially now that he's found a role where he can excel.
"It just feels good," Hayden said. "I feel like we're gelling more as the season progresses, and the sky's the limit for this defense. I feel like we're getting better and better, each and every week."