Pro Football Focus Grades: Packers rookies stepping up on defense All Green Bay Packers All the Time

After finishing dead-last in total defense last season, the Packers put an emphasis on improving their defense last offseason.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson used the 28th overall pick on USC outside linebacker Nick Perry, before trading up twice in the second round to help bolster the Pack’s struggling defense. Thompson is stingy when it comes to parting with his draft picks, but as he put it after the draft, “I’m no longer my father’s son.”

In the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Packers traded up to No. 51 overall to select Michigan State defensive end Jerel Worthy. After losing Cullen Jenkins the previous offseason, Green Bay hoped to add a versatile pass rusher to its defensive line.

Seven picks later, the Packers, again, surprised everyone by moving up to select Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward with the No. 58 pick. The secondary struggled mightily in 2011, and given the fact that Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins would no longer play for the team, the Packers wanted to add a defensive back capable of playing from day one.

And so far, Hayward certainly looks the part.

Through six weeks of the 2012 NFL regular season, Pro Football Focus has Hayward graded out as the No. 2 cornerback in football. Not the No. 2 rookie cornerback in football. The No. 2 cornerback in football, just behind Vikings veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield.

The folks at Pro Football Focus take every single play from every single game, and put each player under the microscope.

So far, Hayward has played 173 snaps on the season. PFF has charged him with just nine completions allowed, and opposing quarterbacks targeting him have combined for a league-worst 18.4 QB rating.

In the Packers’ last two games, Hayward has three interceptions. Hayward’s first pick of the season came last week in Indianapolis when he was matched up one-on-one against Reggie Wayne. The Colts No. 1 receiver torched the Packers all game, but Hayward got the better of him on that play.

At a pivotal point in the game, Hayward matches Wayne step for step and makes a great play on the ball. Not only was it an impressive play, but it’s pretty telling that the Packers’ coaching staff trusts a rookie on a receiver who had been dominant all day.

Then this past Sunday against Houston, Hayward picked off two more passes in the fourth quarter. The first came when he was lined up across from Texans rookie Keshawn Martin, who tried to burn Hayward deep on a go-route. Hayward matched Martin stride-for-stride and made a great play on the ball for the interception.

Once again, Hayward is tested in one-on-one coverage, but the rookie shows off his incredible ball skills and makes the play.

His second interception came late in the fourth quarter against Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates. The ball was tipped by fellow rookie Jerron McMillian and fell directly in Hayward’s bread basket.

McMillian wasn’t credited with the assist on the play, but the rookie safety has played like a veteran in the early stages of the 2012 season.

Pro Football Focus has McMillian graded-out as a the 8th-best safety in the league through six weeks. His best game thus far came week two against Chicago, intercepting the first pass of his NFL career and twice putting a Bears offensive lineman on his backside.

McMillian dropped an easy interception earlier in the game, but he made up for it with a fourth quarter pick of Jay Cutler. So far, both Hayward, 23, and McMillian, 23, have exceeded expectations as rookies.

Perry, the Pack’s first-round pick, has two sacks and eight quarterback hurries on 211 snaps this season. His biggest “wow” moment of the 2012 season came against Indianapolis, when the Colts decided not to block him, allowing Perry to crush quarterback Andrew Luck. Then get flagged (and fined) for playing football.

Worthy hasn’t graded out very well by PFF’s standards, but he stepped up and did an admirable job in B.J. Raji’s absence last week against Houston. He his second sack, and for the third week in a row, set a new season-high (55) for snaps played.

His best game thus far was week two against the Bears, in which he recorded a sack and three stops, which PFF describes as “solo tackles which constitute an offensive failure.”

While there will certainly be some growing pains as the season goes on, Hayward, McMillian, Perry and Worthy have each played a key role in improving the defense. Of the Packers’ top-four defensive players, as graded by Pro Football Focus, two of them (Hayward and McMillian) are rookies.

That’s pretty impressive for a defensive unit that PFF currently has ranked eighth in the NFL.


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Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.


19 thoughts on “Pro Football Focus Grades: Packers rookies stepping up on defense

  1. I’m wondering what Heyward saw in the Luck interception while Wayne ran his out right at the first down marker. Incredible film study? Somehow he (Heyward) didn’t sell out to stopping the “out” before Wayne ran the “up”. Great example of his potential.

  2. Frankly, if PFF has Hayward as their #2 corner, they’re idiots.

    I loved the draft selection of Hayward then, and even more now, but to say that he’s the number 2 corner in football is bizarro.

    PFF, while extremely interesting and insightful most of the time, is built on the premise that stats tell the story, period. That ain’t always true. And sometimes, it makes PFF look dumb.

    But… go Hayward, and go Pack.

    1. marpag, I’m pretty sure everyone understands that these rankings (ratings) are done by stats, even you stated that. A week or two ago Alex Smith was the #1 QB in the league, by stats, stats ARE the QB rating. While I agree with you that they’re NOT the entire story, stats do play a big part in telling us about players, we can’t all watch every game in the league!

      1. Um… Ok. So if I understand you correctly, then, you’re repeating what I said and announcing it to be spot on?

    2. What has Hayward done to show he is NOT the #2 CB? Properly found stats can be used to predict, and his stats have proven themselves on the field several times. I’ll even go your route and say he has proven his stats several times. Either way, having stats does not disprove his ability to be the #2 CB.
      PFF made an argument, proven with facts. How else would you choose to make an argument for, or against, his play?
      Sounds more like fear of numbers than trust in his ability.

      1. Seriously??

        Let’s make this simple: Do you personally believe that Casey Hayward is the second best cornerback in the entire National Football League… yes or no?

        (I’ll just wait a moment for your answer…)

        Your claim that PFF’s argument is “proven with facts” is ridiculous. Let me try that same “logic”…

        AJ Hawk has twice as many tackles as CM3. This is a fact. Therefore Hawk is a better player than Matthews.

        See? “Proven with facts!”

        And hey, as you yourself said, “Having stats does not disprove his ability” to be better than Matthews. So if you don’t accept that Hawk is better than Matthews, I guess you just have a fear of numbers, huh?

        Casey Hayward isn’t the second best corner on his team.

        Second best corner in the entire league??

        1. Do I think? It’s not a matter of what I think. Statistics take emotion out of it. It’s not a fear of stating my opinion. This argument is not of my opinion.
          I am stating the statistics, very thorough and complete, bear out that he is performing as the second best CB given his opportunities.
          Ethical defense: You are trying to make this an argument of opinion. What makes you qualified to form a valuable opinion of his talent? PFF is qualified.
          Emotional defense: Watch the game tape. Do you think any D-Coordinator in the league is going to look at the game tape and go after him?
          Logical defense: Your logic about AJ vs. CMIII uses one fact. One fact doesn’t make an argument. Assemble a number of facts, related and logical to the claim to make an argument. There aren’t enough facts to substantially claim AJ is better than CMIII. Many facts, assembled into statistics. You have one. Furthermore, AJ vs. CMIII says nothing about Heyward having statistics to rank him as PFF’s #2. They are unrelated. Use PFF to show AJ as better than CMIII. You would then have a logical claim against PFF.

          1. Yes, statistics take the emotion out of it… along with wisdom, reason and common sense.

            Your “ethical defense” is hardly worth responding to. Do you consider yourself “unqualified to form a valuable opinion?” Or is that just for people who disagree with you? And how did you decided what is “qualified” or “valuable” except by your own personal opinion?

            Your “emotional defense” is exactly the kind of speculation and opinion that you claim not to do. Yes, I think DCs will throw at Hayward. But remember, this isn’t about what you and I think, right? Watch the tape yourself, and you will see that Hayward got those three INTs because DCs were throwing directly at him. See, you need to take your opinion out of this and focus purely on the assured scientific facts of statistics, right?

            Your “logical defense” illustrates the weakness of your own position. Yes, there’s a problem, isn’t there, when there aren’t many facts on which to base a judgment. But that hasn’t stopped you from anointing Hayward as the number 2 corner in the whole freakin’ league… after what? … spot duty as a nickel and dime back in the first six weeks of his rookie season?

            Yeah, defensive coordinators have probably peed their pants at this, and will never challenge him ever again!

            As I said, I loved the selection of Hayward on draft day. I love it more now. But let’s not get crazy.

            PS. Naming your “defenses” does not make them sound more imposing. It sounds like a struggling philosophy student who needs to switch his major to “floral design”.

            1. Statistics do not take wisdom, reason, and common sense out. Neither do statistics add such things. Statistics are to be interpreted, which happens to be what I am credentialed to do. I do not, nor have I claimed, to be able to form a valuable opinion of NFL talent.
              Granted, using logical terms was rude of me, and I apologize for being demeaning.
              However, PFF utilizes statistics, which I am qualified to critique. Your original claim that PFF claims Hayward is #2 is false, as is your claim that PFF is built on the premise that stats tell the whole story is unfounded. The site provides statistics to be used for interpretation.
              The idea that I claim Hayward #2 is false. I am claiming the statistics PFF uses are valuable and not dumb. There is enough statistical evidence to suggest Hayward would perform extremely well if given more playing time. I am qualified to say that based on the stats. Again, I never claimed him to be #2. I never claimed he wasn’t, either.

              I have no problems with floral design. I think floral designers may take offense to you using their profession in a condescending manner.

    3. Just because their ranking shows that Hayward has scored the second-highest doesn’t mean they are saying they think Hayward is the 2nd best cornerback in the nfl. Nowhere on the site does claim that. They grade each snap based off of how well a player performed his responsibility. Different players are given different responsibilities and some assignments are harder than others. For instance, Tramon usually covers the opponents’ best receiver, so it will be harder for him to grade out as favorably. PFF is just putting information (grades) out there and they are upfront with what their stats are based on and what the stats don’t show. You cannot blame them for the way others interpret their stats.

      Hayward and McMillian are still doing great for rookies and it is nice to see that Tramon & Shields are also grading out well. DJ Smith, Newhouse, and Cobb have also graded well and shown much improvement

      1. and Shields’ grade is probably lower than it should be due to a few bogus pass interference calls. same is true for mcmillian who had an INT taken away on a bogus roughing the passer against Seattle and perry, who had a fumble force similarly negated at Indy.

  3. 2012 could go down as a terrific draft. We need a little more time to see what DE Worthy, OLB Perry, DE Daniels, ILB Manning, OT Datko and QB B.J.Coleman have got but the majority have shown flashes. Early signs are very good.

    As an aside, Mike Carlson pointed out (on Channel 4), we have an A.J(Hawk), a B.J.(Raji), a C.J.(Wilson) and D.J.s(Smith, Williams). We have a T.J.Lang as well.

    There was an E.J. (Henderson) avilable in FA, surely we should have gone for him….. Want to bet we draft an F.J.Somebody, in 2013 ?

    1. Nice, never thought about all the “J’s”, but I think we might lead the league in dreadlocks too!

  4. This defense will go as the rookies go, which could explain some of the up and down performances this year. Hopefully as the season goes on the rookies will be more consistent and the defense will be more consistent.

    1. I’m willing to ride it out. Remember – if they keep getting consistent game time, these guys will be one year vets come playoff time, not rookies!

  5. This rookie class looks fantastic to me. Clearly, Hayward and McMillian have stood out, at least on the stat sheets – Hayward has terrific fundamentals and ball skills; McMillian is fast and physical and looks to have a high ceiling.

    Perry and Worthy have played very well lately as well. Daniels also has a sack and is a high-energy play. He goes all out every play. And don’t forget the undrafted Dezman Moses – if Perry can’t go against the Rams, Moses is likely to get more playing time.

    The totally forgotten guy is Manning who looked like he wouldn’t even make the 53-man and then it came out that he was battling a parasite in his stomach. I think he will end up being a player down the road also.

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