Now that the season is underway, we’ll be breaking down some of the players who are signed to the Jets’ practice squad and could potentially be elevated or activated to play for the team at some point during this season. We continue today with cornerback Tae Hayes, who was activated for today’s Jets game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The 26-year old Hayes was undrafted out of Appalachian State in 2019 and has played in 13 NFL games for five different teams since then. He has recorded 16 tackles and two passes defensed but is yet to make his first start.
Hayes was a two-star recruit out of high school and started seven games in his freshman season at Appalachian State, which saw him end up with 20 tackles and an interception.
Hayes was a backup in his sophomore year, and he had 18 tackles and one pass breakup. He then started every game in his last two seasons. He was a first team all-Sun Belt selection in his junior year with 53 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions and 12 pass breakups, all of which were career-highs. Hayes also had four interceptions and was a third-team all-conference selection as a senior.
Having not being invited to the NFL draft combine, Hayes went unselected in the 2019 draft and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He ended up on their practice squad and made his NFL debut on special teams, but he ended up with the Miami Dolphins after being released in December.
After claiming him, the Dolphins gave Hayes significant playing time on defense in the last two games of the 2019 season, and he ended up with seven tackles and two pass breakups. The following year, he was released in final cuts but made the practice squad and played twice more for the Dolphins, recording another three tackles. After being released in November, he ended up with the Vikings and was elevated for special teams duties in one game for them.
Having signed a futures deal with the Vikings after the 2020 season, Hayes spent time with the Vikings, Cardinals and Panthers in 2021 but did not play. He would then play in the USFL during the offseason, recording 37 tackles and an interception in a starting role, as his team won the title.
Hayes managed to get back into the NFL in 2022 as he played five games with the Panthers and two with New England. He played a total of 70 defensive snaps and recorded six tackles.
In 2023, he has so far spent time with New England, Detroit and Baltimore but he hasn’t played any snaps. The Jets signed him to their practice squad just last week and he was elevated for the Philadelphia game on Saturday.
Now let’s take a look at what Hayes brings to the table, divided into categories.
Hayes is undersized and lacks length. His pro day workout numbers were pretty much average across the board with a 4.56 time in the 40-yard dash.
Hayes was an outside cornerback in college, but due to his size, NFL teams would probably prefer him to play inside. He still primarily played outside in preseason action, but he did get used in the slot by Miami in 2019 and 2020 regular season action.
He played on offense in high school, something he says has helped him to develop as a defensive back.
Hayes’ coverage numbers have been good at the NFL level. In his two appearances as a rookie, he was targeted 16 times and only gave up four catches. In fact, he was unsuccessfully targeted on all seven attempts by Tom Brady in the 2019 finale.
He hasn’t been bad in preseason either, with no touchdowns allowed, no 30-yard plays given up, a completion percentage of just over 50 and an average of 5.5 yards per target given up.
Hayes moves well in coverage, has good closing and recovery speed, and can run deep with opposing receivers.
However, he tends to look less comfortable when he’s in the slot, where his footwork can let him down at times.
While he didn’t post massive numbers in college for on-ball production, Hayes has shown some playmaking ability that has translated to the pro level.
After intercepting eight passes in his last two seasons in college, Hayes has three interceptions in preseason action, along with one in the USFL.
In some of his highlights, Hayes displays some impressive timing to break up passes at the catch point.
Hayes is a player who has been an efficient tackler, who can close and hit. He will miss tackles from time to time, but not very often.
His lack of size can mean that he is driven back in contact when stopping NFL level players but he can make some good open field tackles.
Hayes developed into a player who can make contributions in run support over the course of his college career despite mostly playing outside. He’s made a few good plays at the NFL level too, but you probably wouldn’t expect him to be the kind of player who can get off blocks to blow up runs.
Despite being relatively small, Hayes is a scrappy player who can hit in coverage. He’s also aggressive in press coverage and competing at the catch point.
He’s been penalized five times at the NFL level, three for pass interference, one for holding and one for illegal hands to the face.
He never had more than five penalties in a season in college, but he was ejected for targeting when he hit a sliding quarterback once.
Hayes is a player who has hardly ever blitzed due to playing on the outside. He did record 1.5 sacks in his college career though.
Hayes hasn’t produced much on special teams at the NFL level, but he did get downfield well to get credit on this play in preseason.
Hayes blocked two field goals in his senior year at college, but he only had one special teams tackle in his college career. He returned kicks in high school.
Hayes seems to display good route recognition and awareness. Here’s a play where he does well to anticipate the rub and avoids getting caught up in traffic.
Hayes has always worked hard in training camps, turning heads with his heart and competitiveness. That’s presumably why he keeps getting opportunities. He brings good toughness and energy, sets high standards for himself and has used a chip on his shoulder to motivate him when he lost his starting job in his sophomore year and when he didn’t get the recognition he wanted as a draft prospect.
So far, injuries haven’t affected Hayes’ career, as other than missing a few practices, he hasn’t been unavailable. He played in 13 games in all four of his college seasons.
With his ability to play outside or in the slot and his tenacious style, Hayes is hopefully well-equipped to contribute at short notice if he needs to. Since DJ Reed has had success as a smaller outside corner in this system, that bodes well for Hayes to remain in his more comfortable outside role.
He has been a teammate of multiple current Jets: Sam Eguavoen, Tyler Conklin, Ifeado Odenigbo, Dalvin Cook, Chazz Surratt and Kalon Barnes.
Hayes has an incredible opportunity with all the injuries happening at once and will impress everyone if he’s called upon and manages to hold his own with the Jets. However, by the time they are coming out of the bye, everyone could be healthy again.
Whether or not he gets a chance to contribute at short notice this year, Hayes is a player who has impressed at times in the past only to be squeezed out in a numbers game. The Jets could consider him worth a longer look and we might see him back with the team for training camp next year.