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Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback D.J. Hayden emerged as one of the team's best defenders in an otherwise dissapointing 2019 season, and it appears as if he has garnered some national recognition for his performance. 

Hayden, who signed a three-year contract with Jacksonville in 2018, has been a dependable presence at the nickel cornerback position, making an impact in coverage, against the run, and as a blitzer. He is highly respected in the locker room and by the coaching staff for his toughness and competitiveness and is likely the best free agent the Jaguars have signed in the past two seasons.

Thanks to his high-level of play in 2019, Hayden caught the eyes of Pro Football Focus, who tabbed him as the 10th best cornerback in the NFL in 2019. Considering the Jaguars' poor defense and 6-10 record, Hayden getting this kind of recognition is notable.

"The Jaguars run a lot of single-high man-to-man coverage and Cover-3 zone, and Hayden flourished within this scheme by allowing the fewest passing yards (210) of any qualifying cornerback," PFF said. Like McCourty, Hayden is also one of four players at his position who has not allowed a touchdown pass all season. This form of success has bred confidence and new life into Hayden, who was once seen as a first-round bust in Oakland but is now coming off the highest-graded season of his seven-year career."

"Hayden tied with Richard Sherman by allowing the third-lowest yards per reception average among cornerbacks (8.4) to go along with the NFL's 20th-best passer rating when targeted (74.2), proving that sometimes it’s not about when you go in the draft, but rather, where you go."

Hayden earning such praise isn't particularly surprising considering the fact that he was perhaps the Jaguars' best defender in 2019. For a defense that consistently gave up big plays, he seemed to never be on the wrong end of them. Instead, he came through in the clutch more than a few times.

In 2019, Hayden recorded six pass deflections, one forced fumble, two sacks, five quarterback hits, and a career-high five tackles for loss. He wore a number of hats in Todd Wash's defense and thrived while doing so.

"He is a very tough individual, physically and mentally. That is some of the things that we talk about you have to be to play this game. I think he is underrated," Wash said during his final press conference of the 2019 season. 

"I think we said this a couple weeks ago, what he allows us to do in the run game … He can cover slots man to man. I would definitely say he is underrated for how important he is for our scheme.”