Playing best football of career, Hayden expects to be even better

Playing best football of career, Hayden expects to be even better

ALAMEDA – DJ Hayden is a forward thinker. The Raiders cornerback’s focus is locked on this current season and playing consistent, quality football.

Looking back won’t do him good right now. It would only distract from what has been a solid start to the 2016 season, where he’s operated well as the Raiders slot cornerback.

That might draw an eye roll from pessimistic factions of this fan base, but these numbers show a player performing well.

According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Hayden has allowed less than 30 yards passing in three of this season’s first four games. Gains are short because his tackling’s been strong.

That was clear during Sunday’s victory over Baltimore, which marked his best game this year. He was targeted 10 times and allowed just five receptions for 27 yards (5.4ypc) and a 56.3 passer rating. He also had six tackles.

This strong start to the season is no surprise to Hayden, who has big plans in 2016. Something, it seems, might’ve clicked.

“I know it clicked,” Hayden said on’s Raiders Insider Podcast. “I know it’s going to be a great year for me. It’s a matter of time before I execute even better and sharpen up the little things. It’s about continuing to learn and playing good football.”

This is something head coach Jack Del Rio saw coming. He predicted improved play during the offseason program, saying Hayden had a chance to shed labels and be a productive player.

“DJ is playing well,” Del Rio said on Monday. “He’s done some good things. He was involved in several stops for us (against Baltimore). I feel like he’s had a good offseason, a good, productive camp and has been pretty steady for us. We need that to continue.”

Hayden looks to continue solid play Sunday against a San Diego Chargers team he has fared well against. He sealed victory in 2013 by intercepting Philip Rivers in the end zone. He got Rivers again in 2015 as part of another Raiders win.

That’s two of just three career interceptions for the No. 12 overall pick from the 2013 draft. He was Reggie McKenzie’s first first-round pick as Raiders general manager. That left all eyes locked on Hayden, especially after McKenzie said he would’ve taken Hayden at No. 3 overall before trading down.

That’s a ton of pressure on anyone, let alone someone recovering from a well-documented heart condition from a practice incident while at the University of Houston. He missed the offseason program, most of training camp and was still expected to contribute immediately on a bad team.

Hayden admits that provided extra weight then.

“Of course you’re going to feel pressure,” Hayden said. “Things didn’t go my way early in my career with injuries and stuff I had to deal with. That’s just adversity, and I have to look forward now, focus on this year. I can’t be thinking about what happened the last two or three years. I have to focus on this year and go out there and do my thing.”

And we're brought right back to the present, but those early days created a diamond tough exterior and helped form a player confident he’ll make consistently productive contributions.

“It definitely made me stronger,” Hayden said, “and a better person and a better football player going through that.”

For more from Hayden, including his thought’s on feeling comfortable in the slot, his unshakable confidence and his friendship with Maceo Alverez, a young boy battling heart issues, listen to the entire Raiders Insider Podcast right here.

Reports: Marshawn Lynch to remain with Raiders in 2018


Reports: Marshawn Lynch to remain with Raiders in 2018

The Raiders signed veteran running back Doug Martin on Thursday, prompting many to believe the move meant the end of Marshawn Lynch's time in Oakland.

But as it has been expected, Martin is just another piece to go along with Lynch in the Raiders' backfield. According to multiple national reports, Lynch will remain in Silver and Black this upcoming season. 

The news will become official when the Raiders pay Lynch his $1 million roster bonus on Sunday. 

“One of the reasons I’m excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch. We’ll see what happens," Jon Gruden told Insider Scott Bair at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We have to take a look at the entire roster, but I’m counting on him. I’m counting on him being a big part of this football team.”

Lynch, 31, rushed for 891 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, and scored seven touchdowns for the Raiders in 2017. 

New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'


New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'

Rashaan Melvin has the supreme confidence of a No. 1 cornerback, with none of the pedigree. Top cover men are often drafted high, paid well or both, with a steady ascent to elite status.

This undrafted talent bounced around the league without job security, trying and often failing to find NFL footing.

Melvin spent time with Tampa Bay, Miami, Baltimore, New England and Miami again before establishing himself in Indianapolis. The Colts gave him a real shot and he took advantage, evolving into the team’s top cornerback. Last year was Melvin’s best, but it didn’t provide a long-term contract despite a bull market for cover men.

Melvin signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Raiders on Friday, the type of prove-it deal that could establish a big payday down this time next year. The 28-year old doesn’t consider that pressure. Melvin knowns another big year's on the way, one that proves he's an elite cornerback

"I’m here to dominate the league," Melvin said Friday in a conference call. "It might be time for some new faces at the cornerback position. That’s my take on that. I’m excited for it.”

Melvin wouldn’t trade his long road for a conventional path, and believes experience both good and bad has prepared him for a pivotal season.

“I’ve been cut four times,” Melvin said. “I’ve been in four different locker rooms, and I was able to gain my teammates’ trust, my coaches’ trust and the organization’s trust as well. My confidence just grows over time. There are not a lot of players that can say they’ve been cut four times and end up in a situation where I’m at today. Like I said, it’s perfect timing. My work ethic, my style of play and the way I approach the game and the way I approach my job, my business, it speaks for itself.”

Melvin’s work ethic is unquestioned. His reputation as a grinder is well documented, especially after establishing himself in Indianapolis. Commitment to a craft has created a player with consistent coverage and ball skills.

Melvin was excellent last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Melvin created an incomplete pass (combining passes defensed and interceptions) on 23.6 percent of his targets.

Passers had a 60.3 passer rating against him in 2017, with just 29 completions for 328 yards on 55 targets. The passer rating was 86.6 in 2016, his only other season as a regular starter.

The Raiders need that type of player on the outside. They’ve had inconsistent cornerback play (that’s being kind) in recent seasons, and are hoping Melvin provides stability at a key position. The Northern Illinois alum has loftier aspirations, individually and as the leader of a young position group.

“The goal is to be the best player I can be, first-team All-Pro,” Melvin said. “I’m going to show my leadership, help these young guys out this year. They have tons of potential to be successful in their own careers. For me coming in here and being the leader and showing that, hey, this is what it takes to be successful in this football league, that’s what I’m willing to do. That’s what I’m willing to bring to the table. On the football field, but outside as well.”

Paying $6.5 million for all that would be a bargain. Melvin’s the key acquisition in a secondary built around 2016 first-round safety Karl Joseph and 2017 first-round cornerback Gareon Conley. This secondary can be solid if those guys can realize potential and Melvin’s a true No. 1 cornerback.

He considers that title appropriate, and is ready to show he’s more that a one-year wonder. The Raiders have great confidence in Melvin, something clear after targeting him early in the free-agent process. Financing’s always a big factor, but Friday’s meeting with head coach Jon Gruden, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and secondary coach Derrick Ansley convinced Melvin that Oakland’s a proper fit.

“I can relate to these guys,” Melvin said. “They have big plans for me, big plans for the organization. I was born to be a part of something special; that’s happening in Oakland. It was a good thing. We were able to get everything done, a deal done. I’m just excited to be here and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us as a team and me as a player.”