If you’re suddenly enamored with Packers rookie Casey Hayward, be prepared to join a very large club. Three days of training camp, and it’s obvious the kid is a player, right? At the same time, know that around here you’re very late to that party. Indulge me for a bit:
Very early on during “draft season”, I was told told by a little birdie that Casey Hayward could be the second or third best CB in the draft and that the Packers were in love. I was also told the Packers would be willing to trade up for him, which is why I included him in my one and only mock draft and whispered just before the draft that the Packers loved Casey Hayward.
I’m not mentioning these things to brag (although it does sound like that), but rather to point out that if you are a regular reader of AllGreenBayPackers.com, you’ve known about Casey Hayward for awhile. So you weren’t one of those fans who said “who?” when the Packers traded up to snatch him up. And months later, you aren’t surprised that Hayward has made an instant impression in training camp, picking off passes, blanketing receivers and gaining the enthusiastic praise of his teammates.
Hayward has had a fantastic first three days of camp, and has opened up some eyes. Here are some quotes about Hayward that Bob McGinn of JSOnline.com recently garnered:
James Jones: “Probably the best thing about him right now as a rookie is he understands the schemes and what people are trying to do to him,” wide receiver James Jones said. “As a rookie, he’s smart. He’s going to be good.”
Tramon Williams: “He’s picking up the defense well and making plays,” Williams said. “If he keeps making those plays he’s definitely going to push.”
This is reminiscent of two camps ago when Packers players were raving about a rookie corner that went on to be a first-year starter at nickel: Sam Shields. Of course, we all know that Shields has lost his way a bit in the last year.
There was never a doubt in my mind that Hayward was going to push Sam Shields, Jarret Bush and Davon House for playing time. And I have no doubt he will one day be a starting cornerback in the NFL.
But people, it’s only been three days! The camp reports and the article by McGinn have fans thinking the Packers’ secondary problems are going to be solved by this one rookie. As much as I like Hayward, the odds that he wins a starting job are pretty steep, and frankly, would be more an indictment of how poorly his competition performed, than an endorsement of how good he is so early in his career. Even if he were to earn a starting role, what are the odds the positives outweigh the rookie negatives in year one? If they came out even, would that be considered a win?
My guess for this season is that Hayward wins the dime (or possibly nickel) CB role, contributes on special teams and fills in admirably for injured teammates when called upon. Anything beyond that is pure gravy (but then again, I’m a big fan of gravy…).
NOTE: Here’s a little bonus for our readers from the NFL Scouting Pre-Draft Report on Casey Hayward:
While he might not make it into the first round, unless Denver takes a “few smart pills,” Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward is not only an outstanding ball thief, but is also the most explosive hitter in this cornerbacks group. As for his run stuffing and blitzing ability, name the last time you can remember a Southeastern Conference cornerback leading his team in tackles-for-loss (2009), making eighteen tackles behind the line of scrimmage while picking off fifteen passes 31 others over his last three seasons.
What separates him from most of the other cornerbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft is his keen field vision, above average instincts and excellent ball anticipation skills, along with impressive leaping agility that allow him to climb a receiver and get to the ball at its high point, even when challenged by much taller opponents (see 2011 South Carolina, Army, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest games, along with his classic jam vs. 6:10, 280-pound WR Ali Villanueva in the 2009 Army clash).
He is a good student of the game and it is rare to see him make the same mistake twice. He has a keen understanding for blocking schemes and could make a fine coaching candidate one day, as he is apt to ask detailed questions to explore every aspect of the play with his coaches. With his loose hips, suddenness to redirect and true explosion to close, you would think that Hayward would get over-confident and give a big cushion to the receiver, but he prefers to play his man tight, knowing that he has the hand placement ability to impede the receiver’s route progression.
The Vanderbilt defender has the valid speed to stay with his assignment on deep patterns and does a nice job of getting his body in the way to prevent catches over the opponent’s outside shoulder. He can close in an instant and is very quick to react to the ball in flight, showing natural hands to make the interception or pass deflection. He has the burst needed to accelerate and close on plays at the opposite end of the field and has the second gear to catch up on rare times that he is beaten (see 2011 Elon, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee games).
Hayward has above average foot quickness which gives him the ability to adjust to the receiver’s movements, along with the ability to plant, redirect and flip his hips. However, when he gets too tall and upright in his pass drops, he will take wasted steps (needs to be more certain of himself playing on an island, at times).
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.