Hayward goes in for a tackle (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Much discussion has been made of Casey Hayward, the Packers third selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, especially about what position he will plan in Green Bay. Here's some of the skinny on Hayward.
Hayward is a former high school quarterback. A firsthand knowledge of running an offense gives him a tendency to know where a quarterback is likely to go with the ball, a skill which is reflected in his 13 interceptions over the past two years. At Packers.com, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt had this to say about Heyward:
He’s extremely smart,. One thing I really liked about him when I talked to him at the combine, he understood what he was doing. He communicates at a high level on the field. He understands what the offense is trying to do to him at all times.
The NFL Network's Mike Mayock was a fan of the pick as well, calling Hayward "one of the most instinctive corners in this draft." Mayock was also very complimentary of Heyward's ball skills. He takes good routes to the ball and has played against top competition in the SEC, often being put in single coverage against an opponent's top receiver.
But while Hayward has an excellent feel in zone coverage, he has some limitations in pure man-to-man schemes, especially involving his average straight-line speed. He will have to make up for that with quickness, preparation, and instinct. Hayward put up the best time of the combine in the 20-yard shuttle and was in the top 10 corners in the 60-yard shuttle and the cone drill, a testament to his quickness and agility.
Hayward's size may prevent him from moving to safety, however. He stands 5'11" tall, and weighs between 185 and 190 pounds. He would almost certainly need to put on 15-20 pounds if a move to safety was in order. For comparison, Morgan Burnett is 6'1" and 210, while Nick Collins is 5'11", but also weighs 210 lbs. Heyward has been a solid defender in the run game though, and he is not afraid to make an open-field tackle. He recorded 18 tackles for loss in his three years, all against the run.
It's difficult to say how Hayward will be used in Dom Capers' scheme. If he stays at corner, his average speed and good agility probably will move him inside to cover slot receivers in four- or five-wide formations, especially in zone looks. If he's asked to play safety, he could be effective at the Free Safety spot where he could read the quarterback's eyes and track down deep balls, and his average speed (for a corner) probably puts him slightly above average at safety.
In either case, Hayward will likely be in the depth rotation on defense. I see him competing with Davon House for the fourth cornerback position behind Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields, and setting up mainly in the slot when he's on the field. He should also see immediate action on special teams. This looks like a very good pick to address the Packers' depth in the secondary. I doubt he'll be a starter immediately at any position, but he should help ensure that Jarrett Bush doesn't see the field much in the dime package.