Hayward Outplaying All Rookie Cornerbacks

Casey Hayward thought he should have been drafted much earlier than No. 62 overall, and his early play suggests he was correct. The second of Green Bay's two second-round picks, Hayward ranks among the league leaders in interceptions and passes defensed.

With 15 career interceptions at Vanderbilt, Casey Hayward entered the draft thinking he was one of the elite cornerbacks.

Instead, he was fifth corner off the board, going No. 62 to the Green Bay Packers — well after fellow SEC corners Morris Claiborne (Dallas, No. 6), Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo, No. 10) and Dre Kirkpatrick (Cincinnati, No. 17).

Through six weeks of the season, Hayward has outplayed them all. Of the 13 interceptions collected by rookie cornerbacks, Hayward leads the way with three. Two of those came on Sunday night at Houston — with NBC marking the occasion by spelling Hayward's name "Heyward."

After playing just a few snaps against San Francisco in Week 1, Hayward — the second of the Packers' second-round picks — has become a staple of the defense as the fourth cornerback in the dime package.

Hayward will be in the running to make his first NFL start this week with the uncertainty of Sam Shields (shin). Hayward has played mostly as one of the slot cornerbacks in dime but moved to the outside when Shields was injured during the second half.

"I've got a lot of confidence in Casey Hayward," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. "He can play inside, he can play outside for us — either way. I think you've seen some of his instincts show up and his ball skills. He's been playing more inside. We moved him outside when Sam went down and put Jarrett Bush inside."

According to stats kept by ProFootballFocus.com, Hayward has allowed nine completions on 19 targeted passes for 75 yards. With the interceptions, he's allowed a passer rating of just 18.4. Only San Francisco's Chris Culliver (14.6) is better among cornerbacks, according to PFF. His nine passes defensed also lead all rookie defenders, regardless of position, according to league data. Among all defenders, Hayward is tied for third in interceptions and tied for 12th in passes defensed.

What's been surprising is Hayward's poise. His first interception came last week at Indianapolis, when he refused to bite on a double move by Reggie Wayne. The Texans tested Hayward on a double move on Sunday, too, and Hayward was in perfect position.

The Packers have received sizable contributions from their rookies.

First-round pick Nick Perry, who was rotating with veteran Erik Walden at left outside linebacker, has two sacks. Perry, who exited Sunday's game with a knee injury that left the team fearing the worst, is iffy for Sunday at St. Louis.

"It's better than we thought it would be," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "I had a chance to see the play on the Jumbotron. It was very awkward with the way he fell. So, with that, that's usually not a good sign. I think we're very fortunate there."

The Packers' first second-round pick, defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, recorded his second sack of the season against Houston. Perry and Worthy are tied for fifth among rookies in sacks. Fourth-round safety Jerron McMillian is starting at safety. The other fourth-round pick, Mike Daniels, has contributed as a situational pass rusher.

Nobody, however, has outplayed Hayward, who is fearless in coverage and has a little bit of Charles Woodson in him with his cerebral, playmaking coverage and willingness to hit.

"Casey Hayward played a tremendous game last night," Capers said. "You saw him come up with two nice interceptions. He had a couple pass breakups. He's certainly made improvement. I think Jerel Worthy you saw him show up with a sack. He can be disruptive up front and I think he continues to improve. Mike Daniels played. All these guys can hopefully continue with the experiences they're gaining to help make us better here as we move forward."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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