Star players often steal the spotlight around the NFL. This is especially true this time of the year when many big-name contributors receive massive contract extensions or run into off-the-field trouble.
But every year, we also witness plenty of promising young playmakers who step out of the shadows and make a name for themselves with a breakout season. Who will break out for the Oakland Raiders in 2014?
D.J. Hayden missed most of Oakland’s offseason program as a rookie recovering from a potentially fatal blood-vessel injury he suffered in his senior season at the University of Houston.
The Raiders’ 2013 first round selection (No. 12 overall) was then limited to just 25 tackles with a forced fumble and an interception through eight games (two starts) before being placed on IR with a groin injury last November.
He’s currently in a walking boot and could be sidelined with an ankle injury until training camp, but the Silver and Black have every reason to expect a breakout campaign from the 5-11, 190-pound cornerback in 2014.
“He’s light years ahead of where he was at this point last year,” coach Dennis Allen said in late May, via the Costa Contra Times. “Not just from a physical standpoint, but really from a mental standpoint, too. He realizes now that everything’s going to be fine, he’s going to be OK, and now he can really focus on getting better as a football player.”
“D.J. saw just about everything, both in life and in football, happen to him in his rookie season,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver also told 95.7 FM in mid-May. “From his surgeries to his injuries to what he’s overcome personally, physically, everything. He’s a great young man, working hard right now. He’s honing his technique, he looks explosive and he’s put on weight and strength. And he’s really focusing in on learning the little things in the defense so that he can play faster and more aggressive on certain type of routes. He’s definitely on the upswing.”
Other potential breakout candidates in Oakland include OLB Sio Moore and WR Juron Criner, who reportedly “far and away” stood out as “the best receiver on the field” during last Monday’s OTA session.
Who do you think will have a breakout season for the Raiders? Sound off in the comments.
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Michael Gartman is a College Football and NFL Senior Writer, the AFC South and NFC West Lead Writer and the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com. He’s also about to start reporting on topics across all sides of the political spectrum and analyze important issues in the liberty movement for a political website. Follow him @_MichaelGartman on Twitter. Be sure to ‘like’ Gridiron Grit on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @GridironGrit to keep up with the latest coverage on college football, the NFL and more!