D.J. Hayden 2013 NFL Draft scouting report

Bob Levey

Chances are if you've looked at mock drafts over the past couple weeks, you've seen the name D.J. Hayden creep higher and higher.

In his latest mock draft, Mel Kiper of ESPN has Hayden going 28th to the Denver Broncos. In cohort Todd McShay's mock, Hayden lands at pick 24 and the Indianapolis Colts.

On Monday, Peter King of Sports Illustrated linked the Houston cornerback with the Cincinnati Bengals. King's write-up is the most telling. He notes that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has spent "loads of time" looking into Hayden.

In addition to a very good and athletic cornerback, Zimmer will find one of the best stories in the draft this year. In November, Hayden nearly died following a freak injury during practice. A teammate's knee hit Hayden in the chest, and the main vein in his heart, the inferior vena cava, was torn.

At the time, Hayden thought he simply had his wind knocked out. But if he hadn't received emergency surgery, he could have bled to death. It's an unbelievably rare injury, one which Hayden said at the NFL Combine has a 95 percent mortality rate.

But just five months after the injury, Hayden turned heads at his pro day in mid-March in front of 27 NFL teams. Unable to work out at the combine, Hayden registered a 4.33 40-yard dash and a 33.5-inch vertical leap.

So how exactly did Hayden become the hottest name in the 2013 NFL Draft? Immediately after his pro day, four teams scheduled him for a private workout and seven teams scheduled a visit.

That number has likely only gone up. Adam Caplan of SiriusXM and TheSidelineView.com notes that Hayden visited the San Francisco 49ers on Monday and his medial reports came back very good.

It won't be a surprise now to see Hayden taken in the first 50 picks of the draft. Here's a quick scouting report:

Strengths: In pass coverage, Hayden often played off man coverage with safety help over the top. That allowed him to break on the ball to make a play. It's a system that perfectly suited Hayden. He's a quick-movement cornerback who can bait a quarterback before breaking on the ball to break up the pass. Hayden's instincts and anticipation skills are very good.

Shows solid agility to move around and cover quick receivers. Possesses good size at just under six foot and 191 pounds. Impressively covered Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech. Is a sound tackler when he gets off blocks.

Hayden's hands are decent. In two seasons he had 19 pass breakups and six interceptions. He has a penchant for forcing fumbles as he executes a tackle. Good straight line speed to chase down the ball carrier.

At Houston, Hayden in played both the 4-3 and the 3-4. While that doesn't mean as much for cornerbacks, he knows what he's looking at in different sets. Another small positive is that he played on kick coverage. That won't positively affect his draft stock, but it's a nice bonus.

Weaknesses: Anticipation skills are a key asset for cornerbacks, but sometimes they fall in love with them too much. That's the case for Hayden. Sometimes he gets a bad break on the ball and can be beaten.

In jump ball situations, Hayden can be beaten by bigger, athletic wide receivers. He's not the highest of jumpers and could be picked on in the red zone.

Hayden played just two seasons of top-level college football after playing two years at Navarro junior college. Despite having more than 60 tackles in each of his two seasons, Hayden has some issues getting off blocks in run support. Could get stronger to handle solo tackles better.

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