The word “bust” holds many different meanings. In everyday life, its uses range from, per Merriam-Webster, “the upper part of the human torso” to “break or smash especially with force.”
In the NFL world, “bust” has just two definitions, both of which are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
When you associate the term “bust” with an NFLer, it’s either referring to his Hall of Fame bust, commemorating the sport’s highest honor, or his inexplicable inability to play football, arguably the worst thing you could say about a player.
Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden, thanks to a non-stop barrage of injuries, is dangerously close to cementing himself in the latter category.
Though only in his second season, Hayden — the 12th overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft — has spent more time on the trainer’s table than the gridiron. As the adage goes, you can’t make the club in the tub.
The red flags surrounding Hayden first began popping up before he even entered the league — in Nov. 2012, when he suffered a torn heart cavity in a freak practice collision. At that time, he was playing for his alma mater, Houston, and had wowed NFL scouts and personnel men with his freakish attributes.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Hayden, who blazed a 4.42 forty during his Pro Day (before pulling his hamstring, predictably enough), finally gained medical clearance ahead of the draft. The Raiders fell in love with him and … well, the rest is history.
Oakland got its man. Hayden was immediately slotted in as a starter, the potential anchor of a secondary that needed help in the worst way. Things appeared rosy for both sides.
And then a setback.
Hayden was admitted to the hospital to remove abdominal scar tissue, an emergency procedure said to be linked to his previous heart ailment. He would once again gain medical clearance to return to action, playing sparingly last preseason.
In his regular season debut, he notched 21-of-55 defensive snaps, grading out negatively in coverage. Fortunately, he managed to stay healthy for much of the Raiders’ disappointing season.
And then a setback.
Hayden suffered a groin in practice last November (not a good month for him, apparently). A few weeks later, he was placed on injured reserve. Just like that, his rookie campaign ended in the same fashion it started.
Six months later, amidst Oakland’s minicamp practices, it was noted by head coach Dennis Allen that Hayden is taking all measures to better himself in year two.
“He’s light years ahead of where he was at this point last year,” Allen said in May, via the Contra Costa Times. “Not just from a physical standpoint, but really from a mental standpoint, too. 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.”
Hayden figured that bulking up in the weight room might help his body sustain the wear and tear it typically endures. It seemed to be working, causing Allen to remark that the young corner looks “bigger and stronger.”
Maybe his bad injury luck had vanquished. Hayden was doing all the right things, and he appeared to have turned a corner. Big things — bigger than last year, at least — were on the horizon in 2014.
And then … you guessed it, a setback.
On June 9, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Hayden was in a walking boot after suffering an ankle injury. Allen downplayed the injury, but it evidently was severe enough to linger into training camp.
This brings us to today. At last check, Hayden underwent surgery on the bum ankle — caused by a stress fracture — and is currently on the club’s active/PUP list. He’s out indefinitely as he recovers, with no timetable set for his return.
Being as blunt (and obvious) as possible, Hayden hasn’t done much to quell whispers that he may never last in the NFL. At the very least, his progress — or lack thereof — has to scare the you-know-what out of the Raiders, who once upon a time drafted quarterback JaMarcus Russell, arguably the biggest bust of all-time.
Hayden is still only 24-years-old and possesses loads of God-given talent. He’s more than capable of blossoming into a solid starter. His ceiling is that of a Pro Bowl cornerback; it’s just too bad his floor resembles what nightmares are made of in the NFL.
There’s no telling when, or if, Hayden gets back to full health. He almost certainly will miss preseason action, putting him further behind the proverbial eight-ball. Upon his return, he’ll need to quickly get acclimated and prove his worth on the team.
If he doesn’t or can’t, the only Black Hole he’ll know is what his pro career devolved into.