Casey Hayward made a name for himself in the NFL as an inside/slot cornerback during his 2012 rookie season.
This upcoming season, however, the Green Bay Packers might have to count on him more on the outside.
With the departures of Tramon Williams and Davon House to free agency, the Packers have an opening for a starting cornerback opposite Sam Shields. Hayward — the only other pure corner on the depth chart with game experience — figures to get the first shot at the starting position when OTA sessions begin next week.
Hayward’s 2014 season performance fell somewhere in between his 2013 season, when he was limited to just three games with a hamstring injury, and his 2012 season, in which he was an all-rookie team selection.
As a first-year player, Hayward gradually and confidently moved his way to the top of the performance rankings among all NFL cornerbacks. According to statistics compiled by Pro Football Focus, he tallied the lowest catch percentage against (43.4 percent) and best passer rating against (30.4) among 104 cornerbacks in the league that qualified. He played 372 pass coverage snaps in the slot, fifth-most in the league.
While Hayward finished the season firmly entrenched on the inside for the Packers, he did play some outside during that season and fared even better there. Figuring from PFF’s numbers of total snaps in pass coverage minus those in the slot, Hayward allowed just six completions in 17 targets when lining up on the outside. Three of his team-high six interceptions came when in boundary coverage.
Hayward made his first career start at right cornerback on Oct. 21, 2012, when Shields was sidelined by injury. He turned in a strong performance with five tackles, one pass breakup and one interception. Singled up on speedy receiver Chris Givens, Hayward went stride-for-stride down the left sideline to pick off an underthrown deep pass from Sam Bradford. A week earlier, albeit in junk time in a blowout win at Houston, Hayward did the same, this time down the right sideline snaring a Matt Schaub pass intended for Keshawn Martin in the end zone.
Last season, Hayward shared time with Micah Hyde playing the inside cornerback position. Though he did not meet his 2012 standards, he did play well with three interceptions against two touchdowns while lining up inside. His passer rating against of 70.0 was 11th-best in the league out of 63 qualifying players. He played 246 snaps in coverage from the slot vs. 273 for Hyde, whose passer rating against was also sturdy at 79.9.
Again figuring from PFF’s numbers of snaps in coverage, Hayward played much less on the outside in 2014 (just 54 snaps in coverage). He allowed two catches in two targets.
Sure, the recent sample size for Hayward playing on the outside is small. But the Packers may not have much of a choice but to play him there since Hyde, a hybrid safety/slot, is also capable of playing inside. There is also a wealth of raw talent on the roster, including second-year pro Demetri Goodson, who played only special teams a season ago, and draft picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, all multi-sport athletes that may need some shaping.
Williams was a seven-year starter for the Packers going back to the pre-Dom Capers era for the Packers’ defense. He missed just one start over the past five seasons.
“The coaches know what I can do. They know I can play outside,” said Hayward just before leaving on the Packers’ Tailgate Tour around Wisconsin in April. “Towards the latter part of the year, I was the third man up, so when somebody was going to down, I would be coming in. I proved myself. They know what kind of player they have in me and I know what kind of player I am. I just have to go out there and fulfill the role, whatever they need me to do — whether it’s inside, outside. It doesn’t matter where they want me to be at. I just have to be ready to go out and compete.”
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org