In today’s NFL, you can never have too many talented pass rushers. If your favorite team is looking for an edge defender who is no stranger to overcoming challenges and adversity, they should be all over Notre Dame’s Daelin Hayes.
Hayes suffered a season-ending shoulder injury just four games into his 2019 campaign. He decided to return to the Fighting Irish in 2020 and was named a team captain. Hayes played in nine games and proved that he could handle a full workload.
Hayes most recently went to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl and was one of the most impressive edge rushers in attendance. The hard work he put in leading up to the event paid off in a major way.
Hayes recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his Senior Bowl experience, how he approaches his pass-rushing plan, and which NFL quarterback he would love to make the victim of his first career sack.
JM: Your 2019 campaign was cut short due to a season-ending shoulder injury. How big was it for you to come back in 2020 and play a full season before departing for the next level?
DH: I think it was huge. To come back and put together a full body of work, it was big. Honestly, I had a pretty healthy career at Notre Dame with the exception of that shoulder injury. I still wanted to show that I could take on a full workload in 2020. I came back and I did that as a starter on our defense. It was big for me.
JM: Not only did you do that, but you were also a captain for the first time in 2020. What did that mean to you?
DH: That was amazing. That’s one of my accomplishments that I’m most proud of. I feel like it’s one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. I love it. It was always one of my goals. I watched so many great leaders come before me. To be a part of this long line of great leaders to strap on the gold helmet meant everything to me. Our team captains are voted by the players, so it meant that much more to know that I had the respect of my teammates. It’s a player-driven honor. It meant everything to me.
JM: I love that. You recently participated in the Senior Bowl. What was that experience like?
DH: That was awesome. I had a great time. It gave me a chance to go up against some of the best players in the country. I thought it was an awesome opportunity to compete and for me to showcase my full ability. I feel like I took advantage of the opportunity. I’m excited to move on to the next phase of this process, which is the combine.
JM: I thought you had a great week. Which offensive linemen did you enjoy battling in practice?
DH: The guy from North Dakota State [Dillon Radunz] was one of my favorites. The offensive tackle from Oklahoma [Adrian Ealy] was great. I’m bad with names, I just look up and look at the decal on the helmet (laughs). He’s a big, tall dude. I really enjoyed going up against those two guys.
JM: Those are two great players. Did you have a lot of formal meetings down there?
DH: I did formal interviews with 31 teams. The Rams weren’t there.
JM: Do you feel like you connected with any of the teams in particular?
DH: I feel like I had really good interviews with the 49ers, Chargers, Dolphins of course, Raiders, Seahawks, Steelers, Falcons, Bills, and Packers. I feel like I might be missing one. But those teams I mentioned, I had great meetings with every single one of them.
JM: That’s great. I want to get into some X’s and O’s. What did your coaching staff expect from you within the structure of the defense?
DH: It depends. I did so many different things. I played in coverage. I played some contain out on the edge, I was used to spy the quarterback. We ran some overloaded fronts where I was inside at the 3-tech running games and stunts.
They asked a lot of me. I built that trust with my coaching staff. They trusted me to handle everything they put on my plate and I feel like I did a great job. They felt comfortable asking me to wear a lot of hats. They knew that I could learn it and do it. There wasn’t too much I wasn’t able to do. This was all in addition to my role as a pass rusher. I did a lot in 2019 and 2020, but especially this past year.
JM: It shows up on tape too. What’s your favorite part of playing the EDGE position?
DH: I love to rush the quarterback, period.
JM: I thought you might say that (laughs). Let’s get right into it then. How would you describe your pass-rush arsenal?
DH: I feel like I have everything in my arsenal. There aren’t too many moves that I don’t have a handle on. Everything for me starts with a great get-off. Once guys feel my speed, they typically start to open up their chest, which opens up my power moves. I feel like I pulled out a lot of different things at the Senior Bowl. I showcased a variety of speed moves and power moves. I showed the NFL that I could be a complete and dominant edge rusher.
I feel like I made the most of my opportunities. I also went out there and played outside linebacker, I played the SAM ‘backer position. I don’t think I have any real limitations when it comes to me rushing the passer.
Everybody has questions about my production, but truth be told, I just wasn’t given a lot of opportunities to showcase that. That’s just not the way that our defense was set up at Notre Dame. When’s the last time, especially in my time, when’s the last time we had a double-digit sack guy? Even when Julian [Okwara] was there, he had a great year as a pass rusher, he still didn’t have a double-digit sack season.
People question my production so that’s what I really wanted to show them at the Senior Bowl. I showed everybody what I could do when I’m put in those positions and given those opportunities. That film will speak for itself. What I was able to do against some of the best offensive linemen in the country, it’s all on film now. I put that on display. That’s what I wanted to show everybody.
JM: You did everything you set out to achieve in Mobile. How much of being an effective pass rusher is accomplished pre-snap in your opinion?
DH: You always want to have a pre-snap plan. It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s really about what the offensive tackle gives you, though. You have an idea, you go into every rep with a plan. You have to start setting guys up at some point.
It really is like a chess match. I obviously have a plan, but I pay close attention to my opponent’s tendencies. You have to work with what he’s giving you. For me, it’s all about speed. I really want to make him feel my speed. Once he starts to panic, I can work my power before coming back to speed.
When I got my sack in the Senior Bowl game, I was going with speed first, I hit him with some power, he started to set his feet a little bit more, and I went to a speed-swipe and was able to win the edge. You have to adjust your game plan as you go. It’s all about the flow of the game.
JM: It was on display all week long. I know you’ll take them where you can get them, but if you could choose one NFL quarterback for your first career sack, who would you choose and why?
DH: Do you think Tom Brady will be around for one more year? (Author’s note: the interview was completed before the Super Bowl).
JM: I think so. I don’t think he’s stepping away.
DH: I would love to sack the GOAT, man. That would be absolutely amazing … That would be the first quarterback if I could pick one. That would be an amazing start to my career.
JM: A similar question, but on the other side. If you could pick the brain of any current pass rusher, who would it be and why?
DH: It would have to be Cam Jordan. He’s an excellent guy. I’ve actually heard him speak at a couple of NFLPA virtual seminars. He was also at a pass-rushing summit that I virtually attended. He has the mind of a coach. It’s crazy. I fully believe that he’s going to get into coaching when he’s done playing.
His knowledge of different pass-rushing techniques is so incredibly advanced. I could listen to him talk about playing on the defensive line all day long. I’ve never heard anything like it. It was really crazy.
I would love to sit down with him. I don’t even consider him to be someone that I model my game after or anything like that, but hearing his thoughts on how he sets guys up, how he strings his moves together, it was really cool to pick his brain and hear him speak on it.
JM: That’s a terrific answer. Cam Jordan is a special person and player. What can you tell me about Ian Book as a person and as a leader?
DH: Ian is a great leader. He has his own way of going about things. It’s what makes him super effective. When you try to be somebody that you’re not, guys see right through it, especially at the quarterback position. It becomes evident. Ian has always led the team in his own way. He has his own charisma. He’s super poised. He’s not a big rah-rah guy. When it came time to go to work, we knew we could count on him. He’s a great dude.
JM: We love to hear that. I’ve really appreciated your time, Daelin. This has been terrific. We’ve learned a lot about you both as a player and as a person. In closing, what kind of impact is Daelin Hayes going to make at the next level?
DH: That’s funny, a bunch of scouts asked me that same question at the Senior Bowl. I’m at a point right now where I really feel like the sky's the limit for me. I did what was asked of me at Notre Dame, I did that to the best of my ability. We won a lot of games. I feel like my potential as a pass rusher was really on display at the Senior Bowl, though.
I wanna be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s my goal. I feel like I can do it. It starts with believing in yourself. Nobody is gonna believe that initially, but I don’t have any doubts about my ability. That’s a possibility for me.
I’m so excited for this opportunity. I’m gonna work my ass off to get to that point. Whatever team chooses to give me an opportunity, I fully expect to make the most of it.