The New England Patriots' depth at cornerback continues to thin, and thus will be further tested heading into Week Seven of the 2021 season. With former star cornerback Stephon Gilmore readying to make his Carolina Panthers’ debut, and some key members of the secondary tending to injuries, the Pats continue to search for help at the position.
Following their hosting of defensive backs Brian Poole and De’Vante Bausby for workouts earlier this week, the Patriots hosted another free agent corner on Friday. As listed on the NFL transactions wire, New England worked out former Raiders’ first-round draft pick D.J. Hayden.
Hayden was the 15th overall selection (via the University of Houston) in the 2013 NFL Draft by the then-Oakland Raiders. He spent his first four seasons with the ‘Silver and Black,’ appearing in 45 games. With the Raiders deciding not to pick up his fifth-year contract option, Hayden joined the Detroit Lions on a one-year deal in 2017. He played all 16 games with the Lions, choosing to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018. Haydent would go on to play 30 games over the next three seasons with the Jaguars, missing notable time due to injury. After going unsigned through the 2021 offseason, the 31-year old has worked out with multiple teams over the last few weeks, drawing interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders and the Patriots.
Throughout his eight seasons in the NFL, Hayden has compiled 282 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and four interceptions. At his best, he can be a versatile defensive back, with experience both on the outside and in the slot. For a unit that is currently struggling with depth, Hayden might end up being a welcome addition.
On Sunday, the Patriots will be without the services of slot cornerback Jonathan Jones and reserve Shaun Wade. Each player was officially ruled ‘out’ for the team’s Week Seven matchup with the New York Jets. While Wade has been recovering from a concussion for the past couple of weeks, Jones was a non-participant in practice for the duration of the week. In fact, indications are that Jones’ injuries may keep him sidelined beyond Sunday.
Though J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills will once again draw starting duties on the outside, the slot (a role in which Jones is quite proficient) may be more problematic to fill. Earlier this week, the team promoted defensive back Myles Bryant to the active roster. The hard-hitting defensive back has continuously played a versatile role with New England. He has taken snaps at free safety, strong safety, slot cornerback and perimeter cornerback. Against the Jets, Bryant is the likely choice to sub into the slot. Joejuan Williams, a healthy scratch for Week Six, has struggled this season, and would be better suited as a reserve option on the outside. D’Angelo Ross, Elijah Benton and Sean Davis remain options via the practice squad.
Though his signing may not be imminent, adding an experienced player such as Hayden be a logical signing for the Patriots within the next few days, as the team continues its search for depth in the secondary.