STRENGTHS - Hayden is an outstanding athlete that possesses ideal all-around athleticism and very good length for the position. He is smooth in his pedal and displays fluid hips in transition, allowing him to accelerate effectively out of his breaks. He demonstrates excellent closing burst from off the ball, and was able to consistently cut off routes in front of him from both off and zone coverage in games I evaluated. In zone coverage he does an excellent job of reading the QB and attacking the ball in the air, allowing him to consistently contest catches. He possesses the top end speed to run with all receivers in space, and has the closing burst to recover if he falls behind in transition. He is an outstanding run defender that displays excellent read and react skills, and the ability to effectively challenge and defeat blockers in space. Despite coming up so aggressively in run support, he consistently breaks down in space with excellent base and leverage, allowing him to hold outside containment and finish tackles. Once he has his man wrapped up, he aggressively targets the ball and was able to force multiple fumbles in games I graded.
WEAKNESSES - Hayden looks thin "on the hoof" and needs to add a solid 10 lbs. to his frame. In man coverage he can get exposed at times when he peeks in the backfield too long, as he has a propensity to jump his first instinct, leaving him very susceptible to double moves. His aggressiveness downfield at times results in him being too physical, resulting in him taking pass interference penalties when his positioning should instead result in him breaking up passes. Despite his ability to cut off routes effectively, he wasn't as productive as he should have been in college, as he dropped multiple INT opportunities in games I evaluated. During a November 2012 practice he tore his vena cava (main heart artery), and needed heart surgery to save his life.
SUMMARY - DJ Hayden is one of the most athletically gifted and instinctual players in this draft, and all things being equal, would likely be a first round pick. He has elite deep and closing speed, and is extremely explosive breaking on the ball. He is smooth and fluid operating in space, allowing him to stay on his man's hip in man coverage as well as effectively break and close from off the ball. He is also excellent in run support, as he is aggressive against blockers and has a knack for forcing fumbles by ripping the ball out. His tendency to spy on the QB and guess in man coverage will lead to him giving up huge plays at the next level, and he does not have natural hands when trying to catch the ball, but the primary concern with him stems around his long term health, as his freak injury in November almost ended his life. He is a pro bowl caliber player for a cover two team, and clearly possesses the physical skill set to develop into a very good starter for any other scheme if he can learn to play more disciplined in man coverage. Projecting where he will be selected is next to impossible without full access to his medicals, but with if a team feels confident his heart will not be an issue going forward he could be selected as high as round two.