Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins should select cornerback D.J. Hayden

04/25/2013 12:01 AM

09/12/2014 7:23 PM

D.J. Hayden should be your man, Jeff Ireland.

You don’t have to pay a king’s ransom to trade up to get him and that’s probably what you’d have to do to get Dee Milliner. Hayden, the most complete cornerback in this draft, will be sitting right there if you pick at No. 12 during the first round of Thursday night’s NFL Draft, and he might even be there if you trade down a few spots.

You don’t have to worry about Hayden making plays because he did that in college. You don’t have worry about how fast he runs because he ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash at his pro day last month. You don’t have to worry about Hayden dropping interceptions thrown in his hands like one of your past picks because, well, have you seen him play?

Hayden should be your pick, Jeff.

He’s a system fit. He addresses a need. He’s good people.

Oh, and one other thing: He’s truly blessed.

Even other NFL teams are saying this to Hayden.

“They told me I’m lucky to be alive,” Hayden said, “that I’m blessed, and if you’re good to play, you’re good to play.”

Hayden is good to play again after that terrible, wonderful day Nov. 6, 2012. On that day, during a full-contact practice with the University of Houston football team, Hayden collided with a teammate and tore the vena cava vein that connects to his heart.

He immediately clutched his chest in pain and soon lost all vision in his left eye. He was bleeding out.

Quick action by trainers, the team doctor and then emergency room surgeons had Hayden in surgery within an hour of his injury. Doctors told the player they’d have to crack him open.

His response?

“I can’t play in the next game?”

“The doctor said he was going to cut me open,” Hayden said. “I said, ‘OK, just don’t mess my abs up.’ So they cut through my sternum and saw the main vein to my heart was torn. He put some sutures in, stitched it back together, closed me up and here I am today.”

It wasn’t quite that simple. Hayden missed the final three games of the season. He went into the hospital at 190 pounds, a physical defensive back with first-round talent.

He came out weighing 166 pounds, unable to raise his arms, much less lift a weight. And his draft status seemed all but sunk.

But Hayden is apparently a pretty special kid. The injury he sustained, doctors claim, takes the life of 95 percent of the people it strikes and it normally strikes in high-speed traffic accidents where people smash into their steering wheel. The few who survive this injury typically leave the hospital in six weeks.

Hayden went home in six days.

He went home a different person physically and emotionally.

“I have a new outlook on life,” Hayden said. “All the stuff I took for granted, I don’t take for granted any more whether it’s family, friends, God.

“I’m cherishing every moment now because you never know when your time is up.

“The way I look at it now is if you’re going to do something, do it to the fullest. If I’m going to play a game, I’m going to play my hardest the whole game. I want to feel like I finished my career the way I wanted to.”

Inspiring, right?

But why should that make the Dolphins interested?

Start with this: The Dolphins are looking for good men as well as good players. Hayden’s loss in the Cougars locker room left a void, and when he said he would come back to watch his teammates play their season finale, players asked to wear his name instead of their own on their jerseys.

And that’s exactly what they all did. Every player.

The truth is, if that fateful collision hadn’t happened, Hayden would be wrestling Milliner for the right to be the top cornerback selected this draft. And as his recovery has been complete — he was cleared for all football activities in late March — I see his accident as a circumstance that makes Hayden a stronger person, thus a better prospect.

Again, the kid left the hospital in six days after his chest blew up. Who does that?

He ran a 4.3 on March 18. He says his sternum is 100 percent healed.

And there’s nothing to suggest Hayden is afraid of more contact.

“I need someone to hit me again,” he said.

“I got to get that over with and move on with my career. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Dolphins have spent much of last week talking of trading up and trading down. It’s crazy that they would want to trade up to take Milliner, who has had five surgeries and might not be ready for offseason camps after his shoulder surgery, but wouldn’t take Hayden, who will be available and is ready to compete now.

The Dolphins can trade down and probably still get Hayden because NFL teams overanalyze everything, and a type of heart surgery is surely going to be no different even if that extra analysis will only lead to a 50-50 hit-miss ratio on picks.

This one isn’t that hard to figure out. Hayden was a first-round pick on Nov. 5, before his accident. He should be a first-round pick on April 25.

Pick him, Jeff Ireland.

About Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero

@ArmandoSalguero

Armando Salguero has covered South Florida sports since 1982. He's covered the Dolphins since 1990. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and annually votes on the Associated Press All-Pro team. He has worked nationally for ESPN and also writes general sports columns for the Miami Herald.

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