Grinding through an NFL training camp is arguably the most grueling ordeal in all professional sports. Baltimore Ravens’ rookie outside linebacker Daelin Hayes didn’t just survive, he thrived.
He didn’t mince his words when describing the experience to members of the media on Thursday.
“That was the hardest six weeks of my life,” Hayes said. “I’ll keep it honest with y’all.”
Hayes was one of three prospects that the Ravens selected in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft and was the only one that made the final 53 man roster heading into the regular season. Cornerback Shaun Wade was traded a couple of days before the preseason finale bout with the Washington Football Team and fullback Ben Mason was waived during the final round of cuts. Both are members of the New England Patriots now.
As they proved with the two aforementioned rookies above, the Ravens don’t rely on draft status to determine who makes their team. Hayes wasn’t even the first outside linebacker the team selected in the draft, that honor belongs to fellow rookie Odafe Oweh, so his spot on the team was not a lock heading into training camp.
However, one could argue that the fifth-rounder out of Notre Dame flashed more consistently than the first-rounder out of Penn State. Hayes showed the same tremendous versatility, with his ability to drop into coverage, play the run well and rush the passer off the edge, that he did in college for the Fighting Irish.
“They used him in a lot of different roles, and that plays right into our strengths here, if he can do all those things,” Outside Linebackers Coach Drew Wilkins said. “When he did get one-on-one opportunities, he made the most of them, but they also weren’t afraid to drop him in coverage, weren’t afraid to have him as a run player [on] first and second down. So, he wasn’t just a ‘DPR’ guy – designated pass rush guy – like some of those guys you see in college. He did it all, which really prepared him for this level.”
While Oweh and fellow first-rounder Rashod Bateman have looked as advertised, Hayes has exceeded expectations thus far. He was a menace in opposing backfields in both the preseason and joint practices with the Carolina Panthers. His awareness and aptitude in space were impressive. He regularly beat offensive tackle around the edge with the dip move of a seasoned pro.
Such a beautiful dip move here by Daelin Hayes to get to the quarterback pic.twitter.com/oDzfghPB7q— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) August 16, 2021
Speaking of seasoned pros, the Ravens have quite a few on their roster, particularly at both outside linebacker spots. Hayes has been receptive to all the knowledge that players such as Pernell McPhee, Justin Houston, and Tyus Bowser have taught him and his play has reflected it.
“I firmly believe that Ty-Bo (Bowser) is the best dropping outside linebacker in the NFL,” Hayes said. ”When we go into our film sessions, I’m in class with eight of the best professors in football, whether it be Coach Wilkins, Phee, Ty-Bo, Justin Houston, we’re all learning from each other.”
Hayes grew up a Ravens fan and said that the moment he realized he made the roster was made surreal after he had a conversation with safety Anthony Levine Sr. The veteran special teams ace told him “You’re a Raven”.
“You talk about the Raven brotherhood, the price that you have to pay day in and day out, it’s real,” said Hayes. “This was my childhood favorite team, it means a lot to me. It means everything to me to be out with the vets, to be out with the coaches, to be out here in this organization.”
Typically day three picks selected after the fourth round aren’t expected to make much of an impact as rookies. While Hayes will likely play the majority of his year one snaps on special teams, he could make an impact as a member of the Ravens regular edge defender rotation.