The draftniks are out in full force, scrutinizing every pick by every team from the weekend’s NFL Draft.
Perhaps no pick was more out of the blue than the Tennessee Titans’ choice of William Hayes in the fourth-round out of Winston-Salem State.
Few outside those whose job it is to find NFL talent had heard much about Hayes. When his name was first announced, those of us in the media room immediately thought of the movie, Major League, and Wesley Snipes’ character of Willie Mays Hayes. After all, the Titans did say they were going to go after speed in this draft.
Their decision to not only draft Hayes, but to move up 21 spots to get him caused a few of the talking heads to scratch their heads instead. On ESPN, the draft analysis crew had to scramble as the NFL did not have Hayes’ bio among the fingertip information provided to them for comment.
But the Titans readily defended their choice, saying he has special pass-rushing skills and natural speed that all teams covet in a pass rusher.
A STAR DISCOVERED
“He was a very fast rising prospect,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “We feel like William can come in and help us immediately at the end position. Despite the fact that he came from a smaller school, he has some skills that are rare — his hand use, his explosion, his quickness, his effort, his change of direction.”
If that’s the case, then a fourth-round pick might end up being a major bargain. You need only to rewatch the Super Bowl and see the pressure the New York Giants got off the edge in upsetting New England to know how valuable a speed rusher can be.
Hayes, regarded as a high-motor guy, caught Titans scout Cole Proctor’s attention way back in two-a-days of summer.
“We went in for two-a-days back in late July and it was about 113 degrees in Winston-Salem and they were out there practicing,” Proctor recalled. “You just saw a kid that was busting his butt. You could just see he had some skills and you opened your eyes and said you will be back in October after they played some ballgames.
“I went back in and the coach, they had an open week, and he gave three DVDs because he couldn’t be there and he left them for me. I took them back to the hotel and only one worked. It was Florida A&M and it was one of his best games. So I definitely had to get back and look at some more.”
SECRET GETS OUT
The Titans believed they possibly had a late-round diamond in the rough — until Hayes went to a pro day at nearby Wake Forest and ran a 4.61 time in the 40-yard dash. As well, talk was starting to get out among the teams Winston-Salem had played that they needed to take a look at the young man nicknamed “Big Play” Hayes.
“The workout really perked up a lot of teams,” Proctor said. “As soon as he ran that 4.61 40 there were guys with their cell phones that hadn’t been to two-a-days and that stuff. They were over on the side and calling in. It was unbelievable.”
Said Hayes of the workout, “I had a chip on my shoulder. I had to go out and prove that I could compete and that I could play just as good as anybody in the nation.”
So by draft time, as many as a half dozen other teams, including division rivals Indianapolis and Jacksonville, were suddenly interested in a player who had been so obscure for so long. Mel Kiper, usually on top of anyone draft-eligible that has a pulse, even said Hayes was an undrafted free agent in his book.
HAYES HAS HIS FANS
“I am the one to prove the doubters wrong,” Hayes said. “You are never going to see me stop working. Nothing is going to stop my shine. I am ready to come down there and get to work and prove everybody, Mel Kiper and everybody else that had something negative to say, wrong. Its time to go to work now.”
But here is something that should tell you all you need to know about Hayes and the pick. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn is a crusty type who isn’t afraid to give an honest and even a blunt opinion of a player, was said to be ecstatic to have Hayes.
And Hayes is ecstatic to be a Titan and play for Washburn, as the two had already established a pre-draft relationship.
“Oh, that’s my main man,” Hayes said. “I try to have a conversation with him at least once a week.”