Many of us were left scratching our heads when Ted Thompson drafted Casey Hayward, a cornerback from Vanderbilt, at the end of the second round in this year's NFL Draft. I remember scrambling to find any information on him after the pick was announced, and finally coming to the conclusion that he had a chance to contribute in the nickel or dime packages this season.
Oh, how we sold him short.
On Thursday, Hayward was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month for October, a month that saw him record four interceptions, 13 total tackles, five pass breakups, and two starts in four games. Those four interceptions now rank him in a tie for third in the NFL for total picks over the entire season, and they put him in the lead for the Packers' defense.
Advanced statistics also show Hayward to be extremely effective. When Pro Football Focus ranked all of the NFL's cornerbacks in terms of tackling efficiency (a radio of total tackle attempts to missed tackles), Hayward ended up as one of only five corners who have not missed a single tackle when playing at least 200 snaps. Furthermore, he is one of only two rookies in the top 10. That willingness to be physical and tackle effectively is the perfect complement to his excellent ball skills. Hayward was named an honorable mention for Pro Football Focus' Rookie of the Month award, where he was the only defensive player mentioned.
Hayward's impact goes beyond just the stat sheet, of course. He brought stability to the Packers' dime package early in the season, and has proven himself to be very effective covering slot receivers. This is not as much of a surprise as his solid play on the outside. When Sam Shields went down against Houston, Hayward shifted to the outside in the base defense and did not miss a beat, a more impressive feat than simply excelling in a slot role.
Overall, Hayward has exceeded my best expectations for him over the first half of the season. I look forward to him being a key part of the Packers' defense in the years to come.