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NFL Draft littered with potential cornerback starters, even in middle rounds

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
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Mississippi State defensive back Johnthan Banks (13) covers a receiver during the first half of the Gator Bowl against Northwestern on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013 in Jacksonville, Fla.
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Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden during the Cougars' game against Texas State on Sept. 1, 2012, at Robertson Stadium in Houston.

When a player talks about how he is dying to play football, he doesn't mean like this.

During a routine University of Houston practice Nov. 6, star cornerback D.J. Hayden was defending a pass when he collided with a safety, whose knee struck him in the chest. Doctors later told him the force was equal to a high-speed car accident.

“I fell to the ground. The doctor was asking me questions and I was getting real cold,” Hayden aid. “My left eye goes pitch black. I'm praying, ‘Lord, help me get out of this one.' ”

Told at the nearby hospital there was a considerable amount of blood in his abdomen and an operation was necessary, he had only one thought: “OK, just don't mess my abs up.”

Once the operation began, doctors determined the main vein to his heart was torn. The condition is 95 percent fatal, he was told, but Hayden lived.

And, on Thursday, only 5 12 months later, he could be one of the top three cornerbacks chosen in the NFL Draft.

Talk about a miracle recovery.

“Veins heal pretty quickly,” Hayden said. “Once they're healed, they're healed.”

Because of that — and his 4.3 post-recovery time in the 40-yard dash — teams don't seem to have any fears that Hayden will have any long-term effects from what truly was a freakish on-field accident.

“I think as horrific as the whole thing was, most of the teams have come to the conclusion that it was a once-in-a-gazillion situation that has no more chance of being replicated than it did (occurring) in the first place,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.

There was even some last-minute speculation that Hayden could wind up being the first cornerback taken, although Dee Milliner of Alabama has been regarded as the top player — and a top 10 pick — for months.

But Milliner still is healing from surgery last month to repair a torn labrum, and he might not be ready for the start of training camp. That was causing him to fall in mock drafts, though it was difficult to judge whether teams suddenly might be hesitant to take him so early.

Milliner started only half of Alabama's games in 2011, but was an All-American last season — a physical, disruptive defender who broke up 22 passes for the national champions.

“I feel like I am the best DB in all of this,” Milliner said. “No offense to all them other DBs. (It's) just I believe in what I can do and all the plays I can make.”

There's enough talent in the 2013 cornerback class that starters could be found well into the third round.

And what about the Honey Badger?

Tyrann Mathieu, the 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist who was kicked off the LSU team last summer and subsequently arrested on drug charges, is draft eligible. There are countless questions about his character, judgment and substance abuse problems, but it's likely some team will take him in a middle round.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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