The Jaguars are making a change at the nickel corner position for the 2018 season, extending a 3-year, $19 million deal with $9.5 million in guarantees to former Raiders and Lions CB D.J. Hayden.
Who is D.J. Hayden?
A former first round pick (12th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft from the University of Houston, Hayden’s professional career nearly ended before it even started.
As a senior, Hayden was injured in a collision with a teammate causing a tear to his inferior vena cava, a crucial large vein responsible for carrying blood from the lower half of the body to the heart.
The injury is often seen in automobile collisions and statistically has a 95% mortality rate.
The 5’11” 190-pound speed demon was clocked at 4.33 on his 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and has found more success each season in the league. In 2017, Hayden signed a 1-year, $3.75 million “prove it” deal to play as a versatile cornerback in Detroit’s 4-3 defense after years playing as a boundary left cornerback in Oakland.
In Detroit, Hayden essentially alternated series with Nevin Lawson on the boundary opposite Darius Slay and featured as a rotational depth player for the Lions. Quandre Diggs was the team’s starter at nickel and earned a 73.5 PFF grade on 790 snaps from the slot.
As a result, the Jaguars are essentially crossing their fingers and hoping that Hayden’s skill set will project favorably as a feature nickel cornerback in their defense.
Behind The Numbers
In 2017, Hayden allowed a career-best 0 TDs and 76.7 passer rating when targeted on 488 snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Hayden allowed 29 receptions on 50 targets (58.0% catch rate) for only 315 yards with 6 pass deflections and 2 fumble recoveries (1 returned for TD).
One negative about Hayden is that from 2015-2017, Hayden led all defensive backs with 13 defensive pass interference penalties on 162 targets for a shocking 8.02% DPI%.
For reference, the next highest on this list is Delvin Breaux with a 5.98% DPI%. But don’t panic, Jaguars fans. Only 2 of these 13 came with the Lions in 2017, and most of these stemmed from Hayden not having safety help over the top in Oakland and having to do what was needed to prevent a big play.
For the Jaguars fans waving goodbye to the nickel blitz due to Hayden’s limited sack numbers; Hayden was only dispatched on a blitz on 2 of 488 snaps, getting home for a half-sack.
In comparison, Aaron Colvin allowed 45 receptions on 62 targets (72.6% catch rate) for 317 yards on 700 snaps, also not allowing a TD in 2017. Colvin’s passer rating against when targeted was 83.9 and he finished the regular season with 1 pass deflection and no interceptions.
I’m not a stat guy, but digest that however you want.
Checking The Tape
Because Hayden played mostly on the boundary as a right cornerback for the Lions, I tried to find reps where he would be in the types of coverages that would simulate what he would be doing in the Jaguars scheme as an inside guy.
In this play, Hayden quickly diagnoses the underneath route from the right cornerback position and breaks immediately to shadow the receiver step-for-step.
Hayden can expect a lot of situations where he’ll have to marry mental processing and urgent breaks on drags and slants from an inside alignment.
One term you’ll hear often for nickel corners is mirroring. Mirroring hinges on quick-twitch and sudden change of direction, agility, and lateral control to virtually become a shadow for the WR wherever he goes.
On tape, Hayden possesses these traits in droves, and you have to wonder why a forward-thinking defensive coordinator hasn’t moved him inside sooner.
Hayden lines up as the right cornerback here and shows great fluidity in his press and bail technique. The receiver attempts to freeze Hayden with a slight stutter but Hayden doesn’t bite, running in-phase stride for stride downfield.
In this example, Hayden shows outstanding discipline in zone coverage to keep his eyes on the passer and remain on the hip pocket of the receiver on a curl and go.
Based on the plays I’ve seen, Hayden exhibits better ball skills than what I’ve seen from Colvin and shows good courage at the catch point.
Here, Hayden sinks his hips, plants, then drives back to suffocate the curl route with urgency to make a play and prevent the catch.
When it comes to coverage, this play is probably the best example of how Hayden will be used in the Jaguars defense. The Lions are in a Cover 2 Cloud Zone and Hayden is quick to process the hand off of the WR to his safety and shoot downfield to pick up the tight end in the flat.
Hayden gets there so fast that he surprises the TE with how quickly he lays a lick.
As surprised as I am that no team has ever featured Hayden as a featured slot cornerback, Hayden’s ability in run support could be the answer as to why.
Open-field tackling is not necessarily what I would label as a strength of Hayden’s. On tape, he’s shown a tendency to drop his head in 1v1 situations and fail to wrap up.
Here is an example of Hayden deep in off man where he has to corral a runner moving at him with a full head of steam in the open field.
Hayden is a much more reliable tackler when he can attack downfield and have the confidence of knowing he will be the hammer, not the nail. Watch him knife in here on this WR screen and wrap up the receiver short of the first down marker.
These are the type of situations Hayden will be in more often lining up closer to the line of scrimmage.
One feather that Hayden can put in his hat over Aaron Colvin is making plays that impact the momentum of the game. Hayden has 3 career INTs, and he has also played a hand in his share of fumbles in his career.
Hayden recovered this fumble for a touchdown against a division rival, and had another fumble recovery in 2017. A lack of making impact plays has long been a gripe about Colvin’s game, and I would expect Hayden to at least play a part in more turnovers than Colvin did, because quite simply, it would be impossible not to.
Moving from being an outside to inside corner, something Colvin may be doing the opposite of in going to Houston, should translate well in regards to turnovers because the defensive back is mentally programmed to attack the ball and not the man.
Since Hayden has rarely played slot corner in his career, the Jaguars are basically hoping that his skill set projects to what they want their nickel corner to do. Hayden does possess the traits that a successful slot corner relies on to succeed, particularly quick-twitch, mirroring, and urgency in planting and driving downfield.
Hayden is not going to be asked to play out of his scope and will largely be responsible in smothering the flats and underneath routes in the Todd Wash’s scheme. Additionally, Hayden’s experience as a perimeter corner adds to his value as a depth piece in the event Jalen Ramsey or AJ Bouye miss some time due to injuries.
Ultimately, I don’t expect much of a drop off or a difference from what we saw from Aaron Colvin in going to Hayden.
I still wouldn’t have given this deal to a player without proven production at the position I’m signing him to play, but the ability to patch a need and free up flexibility heading into the draft is something this team obviously felt they needed.
Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee officially taken off PUP list
The Jacksonville Jaguars have officially taken wide receiver Marqise Lee off of the physically unable to perform (PUP) list today. Head coach Doug Marrone announced the development at his pre-practice press conference today. Marrone says Lee will be practicing today.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) August 17, 2019
Lee has not practiced or played since his preseason knee injury almost a year ago today. With this progression, the Jaguars will go into the season — at least for now — with their top receivers active and relatively healthy. If Lee is able to make any sort of contribution during the start of the season it will be a major success for the Jaguars.
Currently, the Jaguars have relied on newcomer Chris Conley along with veterans Dede Westbrook, and D.J. Chark along with other newcomers to make up for Lee’s absence. It is not yet known how this will affect the Jaguars roster come the cut-down day.
The Jaguars have not announced a corresponding move as of right now. The roster stands at 91 until they do so.
REPORT: Jaguars sign RB Elijah Hood, release QB Tanner Lee
Earlier today the Jacksonville Jaguars announced the signing of running back Elijah Hood. As a corresponding move, the Jaguars have released quarterback Tanner Lee.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) August 17, 2019
Hood, 5’11” 230 pounds, was originally drafted in the seventh round by the Oakland Raiders. After bouncing around on the Raiders practice squad for the year, he was eventually waived following the 2017 season.
Hood most recently played the Carolina Panthers, however, his time with the Panthers was cut short in 2018 due to a torn ACL. He will get an opportunity to prove himself with the Jaguars and potentially live up to his collegiate career where he accumulated 2,580 yards and 29 touchdowns while at UNC.
With the injury to running back Alfred Blue (ankle) this past Thursday along with other running backs on the roster, the Jaguars needed to add depth at the position. Hood will get every opportunity to make the team, but his chances are rather slim.
Lee, a 2018 6th-round pick by the Jaguars was finally released as a corresponding move to signing Hood. Releasing Lee will not come to much of a shock for Jaguars fans. Lee has struggled throughout the offseason and in the preseason during both of his seasons with the Jaguars. This leaves backup quarterbacks Gardner Minshew and Alex McGough to battle it out in the Jaguars last two preseason games — although it looks like Minshew has the upper hand as of right now.
Jaguars defensive end Datone Jones has inside track on backup job
Earlier this offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars opted to sign seven-year veteran Datone Jones as a means to create more competition and depth behind defensive end Calais Campbell. At the time, this was seen as more of a roster-filler type move, essentially to make sure the Jaguars have enough bodies during training camp. However, the situation has completely changed due to the way Jones has played during the offseason and into training camp.
Jones, 6’4″ 285 pounds, was originally drafted 26th overall in the 2013 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. Coming out of UCLA he was expected to make a major impact along the defensive line after accumulating a respectable 62 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks during his senior season. Since being drafted, Jones has bounced around the NFL playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and, most recently, the Dallas Cowboys.
Jones was not able to make as much of an impact on the Packers’ 3-4 defensive front after bouncing around from the defensive line to — surprisingly — linebacker.
For a short time, Jones signed with the Minnesota Vikings shortly after his contract with the Packers ended and expressed the concern of a position switch during an interview with the Vikings update stating, “They didn’t tell me. I found out on NFL Network that they had moved me to outside linebacker, I kind of knew that I would have to make the adjustment or I wasn’t going to be there anymore. I wanted to come into a place where I felt most natural, where I could really showcase my ability, what I could really do.”
Having to make such a drastic change in his career path after being mildly successful — 73 tackles and nine sacks with the Packers — at another position impacted Jones. While Jones did accumulate the most pressures for the Packers during the 2016 season while playing outside linebacker, it still was not the appropriate position for him to play given his natural ability.
Now with the Jaguars, Jones is back along the defensive line and is thriving. With the backup strong-side defensive end position for the Jaguars being completely wide open, Jones has taken the opportunity afforded to him and could be apart of the first group of players coming onto the field for the normal starters.
The Jaguars have tried for a couple of years now to find a good backup behind Campbell. They drafted defensive tackle/end Taven Bryan in the first round just a year ago, however, he has switched to more of a fulltime role on the interior of the defense. Mostly a disappointment his first two seasons, defensive end Dawuane Smoot has also taken a backseat with the arrival of Jones, giving Jones the inside track to win the primary backup job.
Jones has taken that opportunity and has thrived. Able to come off the ball with speed and power, he has the ability to adequately stop the run along with getting to the quarterback. During the game on Thursday, Jones completely took over the Eagles offensive line. One play in particular from Thursday’s game stands out.
Jones lines up on the defensive edge and is unblocked, getting to the quarterback and knocking him (Cody Kessler) out of the game. These are the type of plays which illustrate why he has earned a spot on the Jaguars 53-man roster.
— Datone Jones AKA TONE_LOCC (@IAM_Dat_One) August 16, 2019
A rotation from normal starters Yannick Ngakoue, Marcell Dareus, Abry Jones, and Campbell to Josh Allen, Bryan, Eli Ankou, and Jones illustrates just how deep the Jaguars are along the defensive line.
This past week head coach Jaguars Doug Marrone was asked about the importance of the defensive end spot behind Campbell.
“I feel good about where we are with our D-Line, I do. In other words, I feel like we have good starters, and I feel like we have good depth. I think we have a lot of players there, guys that will probably be, if you look at the roster, I think that can potentially be the toughest. Who is nine, who is 10 if we keep 10, wherever that goes,” Marrone stated.
“Yan obviously looks great out there, but then all of a sudden [Dontavius] Russell, [Michael] Hughes, Datone Jones, I mean you have guys now, big V [Kalani Vakameilalo] is a big body in there. We have guys now that are in there that are pretty good that it’s going to be a tough call.”
A “tough call” that might have gotten tougher — or easier depending on how you look at it — with the performance Jones put on Thursday and throughout the offseason. Against the Eagles, Jones was credited with three tackles and a quarterback hit, however, it was his persistent pressure and pocket collapsing plays that set him apart from everyone else.
Shortly after the game, reporters spoke to Jones about his strong play against the Eagles. “I just wanted to go out there and execute and compete. I felt like I started off really slow the first preseason game and I felt like I owed it to my teammates to go out there today, execute and put my abilities on film,” Jones said.
“[I wanted to] let guys like Calais [Campbell], Marcell [Dareus] and Yannick [Ngakoue] know that I’m here to compete and I want to be in the lineup with those guys. I want to be here in Sacksonville, sacking quarterbacks. Preseason is all about coming out here and displaying and competing and just having fun with your brothers. Executing, you know.”
It is clear playing behind the Jaguars starting defensive line, and seeing the culture within that group has lit a fire under Jones for the better. If he can provide the same production he has done in the past, the Jaguars may have one of the deepest defensive line groups in the entire league.
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