The Jaguars — fairly or unfairly — are widely viewed as one of the worst teams in football entering the 2020 season. But that doesn't mean they are entirely bereft of talent.
Recently, Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire wrote a piece breaking down the best slot defenders in the NFL. Among the players to make the list were Mike Hilton, Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Harris, Jourdan Lewis, Mackensie Alexander, Tramon Williams, Nicckel Robey-Coleman, Marlon Humphrey, Brian Poole, K'Wuan Williams, and Jacksonville's own DJ Hayden.
Hayden has been with the Jaguars for two seasons and has certainly exceeded expectations since arriving in Duval. After a disappointing start to his career in Oakland, Hayden has blossomed in the nickel cornerback role for the Jags.
Here's what Farrar had to say about his fourth-ranked slot defender:
The Raiders selected Hayden in the first round of the 2013 draft, but injuries derailed what seemed to be a promising early career. After a stint with the Lions in 2017, Hayden signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Jaguars, and though he’s still missed time with injuries of late, he’s also been a revelation in the slot even as Jacksonville has engineered the deconstruction of what was a truly great defense a couple years ago.
Farrar is on the money with his analysis. Hayden has been a near-elite defender in the slot for the Jaguars. He has the versatility to cover slot receivers and tight ends, defend the run, and rush the passer. But he may not be long for the starting role in Jacksonville. Hayden is entering the last year of his contract, is 30 years old, and has missed seven games due to injury in the last two years. Generally speaking, his high level of play and low cost should be reasons to keep him around beyond 2020, but fourth-round pick Josiah Scott looms large as Hayden's backup in the slot.
Still, Hayden should be in line for another big year at nickel cornerback for the Jaguars. And if he excels as he has to this point during his tenure with the Jaguars, he'll either earn a second contract in Jacksonville or find a new gig elsewhere.
In regards to his ranking as the fourth-best slot defender in the league, I think it's pretty fair. He's certainly not on the same level as the league's top slot man, Tyrann Mathieu.
Hayden's veteran presence and skill set should help a Jaguars' cornerback group that has seen its fair share of turnover heading into 2020. He'll be playing alongside ninth overall pick CJ Henderson, third-year man Tre Herndon, and the newly signed Rashaan Melvin.
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