ALAMEDA -- The selection of Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden in the first round of the NFL draft by the Raiders on Thursday night was a gamble that went beyond his well-documented medical history.

Given that general manager Reggie McKenzie said he identified Hayden as their man with the third overall pick, there was no guarantee Hayden would be around after he traded back to the No. 12 spot in order to pick up a selection in the second round, No. 42 overall.

Things got tense when the New York Jets came up at No. 9. Having dealt cornerback Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay, New York was a threat. There was a sense of relief when the Jets instead took Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.

"I had an inkling that when you lose a player like Darrelle Revis I could see where they would pick a corner," McKenzie said. "But they went with the other guy and we got our guy."

Watching the draft with his family, Hayden had heard rumors of the Raiders interest and was relieved when it was over.

"It's just crazy how God works," Hayden said on a conference call. "I really came a long way, and for this to happen to me, it's really a dream come true."

How crazy?

Considered one of the top cornerbacks of the country, Hayden had a life-threatening injury when he was kicked in the chest on a routine practice play. The inferior vena cava in his heart was torn, an injury most often seen in automobile accidents. He could have bled out and died on the field.


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The surgeons not only saved Hayden's life, but told him he could resume his career once his sternum had healed and the stitches were gone.

Hayden said doctors at the NFL scouting combine were amazed when they saw his scar and estimates he told his story "about 300 times." McKenzie said Hayden has been given 100 percent clearance with no limitations by the medical staff.

"The real, main concern was how I would feel getting back out there," Hayden said. "I just told them I have to get out there and shake the rust off myself. I can tell them anything they want to hear, but I have to actually go out there, do it myself and just play."

Hayden said he's looking forward to taking the first hit and isn't the least bit concerned.

"I've been play-fighting with my friends and they've been punching me in my chest and I can take their punches so I'm pretty sure I'll be all right," Hayden said.

Hayden, unable to work out at the combine, ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at his pro day workout and began to re-emerge as a first-round possibility, just as he was before the injury.

The Raiders believe Hayden to be superior to Milliner and the rest of the cornerback class because of his ability to both cover and make plays on balls in the air.

Hayden, 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds, had six interceptions in 23 games at Houston and interception returns of 97 and 75 yards.

"I think he's got a chance to be really good and a difference-maker for us, so when you look at the top corners in this league, that's who I see him ending up being like," coach Dennis Allen said.

The Raiders faced a barren position group before free agency began, but have since added unrestricted free agents Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins and added a rookie who presumably will be a starter.

For all the speculation of the Raiders trading back in the draft, McKenzie said the amount of phone calls "dwindled" and that "the Miami offer was the only one that makes sense."

Hayden fits the mold of a football-first personality who takes the sport seriously.

"The guy's all football. He loves football," Allen said. "Obviously, what he's been through, he's willing to work. A lot of people talk about character, this guy has the type of character we're looking for."

For more on the Raiders, visit the Inside the Oakland Raiders blog at ibabuzz.com/oaklandraiders. Follow Jerry McDonald on Twitter at twitter.com/Jerrymcd.

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