Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden might lack the name recognition of his peers but his medical condition was even more frightening. Thankfully, with a terrific effort Monday during Houston's Pro Day, he provided some evidence that he might be on his way to a full recovery.
Hayden was clocked in an unofficial time of 4.33 seconds in his first running of the 40-yard dash, according to the University of Houston athletics website. A league source on the scene clocked the First Team All-Conference USA cornerback at a slightly slower but still blazing 4.40 seconds. Hayden pulled up with a hamstring on his second attempt and elected not to further participate.
He did, however, compete in the vertical jump (33.5 inches), broad jump (10 feet) prior to running the 40-yard dash. Hayden did not participate in the positional drills due to the hamstring injury, nor did he attempt the bench press as his sternum is still recovering from the emergency heart surgery conducted shortly after his injury was diagnosed following a freak hit during practice on November 6.
Hayden recounted the injury at the combine.
“It was a regular day at practice," Hayden said. "We were doing team vs. scout team. They threw the ball my way. Me and the safety ran into each other. His knee hit me in my chest. I fell to the ground. It felt like I got the wind knocked out of me. When I was breathing, I just wasn't breathing right."
"Dr. Michael O'Shea [Houston's trainer] took me inside. He was asking me these questions and I was getting real cold. “I'm looking around and I'm getting real sleepy. My left eye goes pitch black. I can't see out of it. I can see a little bit out of my left eye. I'm praying, ‘Lord, help me get out if this one.' “They rushed me to the hospital and did a scan on my stomach and my chest. They saw a lot of blood in my abdomen. They thought it was my liver or my spleen.
“The doctor said he was going to have to cut me open. I said, ‘Okay, just don't mess my abs up.' So they cut through my sternum and saw the inferior vena cava, the main vein to your heart, was torn. He put some sutures, in stitched it back together, closed me back up and here I am today.”
Hayden was held out of all activities at the combine in Indianapolis. His workout Monday was the first time scouts have seen him do anything.
"It's the most unique injury in the history of the draft," longtime Packers' scout Alonzo Highsmith told the Houston Chronicle. "The only people that ever had it aren't alive and doctors have never seen it."
Hayden had been earning second- and third-round grades from clubs prior to suffering the injury. The 5-foot-11, 189-pound defender is a fluid athlete with the agility and speed to effectively remain in the hip pocket of receivers. He breaks on the ball quickly and has shown natural ball skills, intercepting six passes in just 23 games, returning two of his four interceptions this past season for long touchdowns.
If teams believe he can fully recover from the freak injury, he could wind up as a "surprise" top 100 selection next month.