The Green Bay Packers had one main focus during the NFL draft last offseason and that was to fix their defense. The first five rounds were all dedicated to the defense, which included drafting cornerback Casey Hayward in the third round. Hayward has had an expanding role in the defense ever since Charles Woodson hurt his collarbone early in the season.
Hayward has taken advantage of his opportunity, grabbing six interceptions with two games left in the season. Not only does he lead the team in interceptions, but he has three times as many as the next player on the team. Hayward also has 19 passes defended which leads the team as well. Compared to the rest of the league, Hayward still ranks among one of the best this season. He is tied for third in interceptions and is ranked second in pass deflections.
A Green Bay defense that was ranked 31st last season is vastly improved, ranked 17th this season and Hayward is a big part of that. The interception numbers are down for the Packers, but Hayward has done his part and has made this defense much better. With an offense that is not as dominant as last season, Green Bay can’t rely on outscoring opponents every week. The defense is now counted on to win games and the defense has been a big part of most of the wins this season.
The question is whether Hayward has done enough to be the defensive rookie of the year? With two weeks left in the season, it seems that this will be a two-man race between Hayward and Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly who was the ninth pick in this year’s draft. Kuechly leads all rookies in total tackles with 138 and is second in the league in tackles. Kuechly has three games with at least 15 tackles this season and no other player in the league has more than one. The Panthers have had a disappointing season, but have been hot as of late on both sides of the ball.
The main turn around of the Panthers on defense is because of Kuechly. He was moved to middle linebacker after Week 5 and since then the Panthers are ranked fifth in total defense. Kuechly is a name that is not heard a lot in the league considering his team is not in playoff contention and most of the focus on that team is with Cam Newton, but he is definitely the front runner for defensive rookie of the year along with Casey Hayward.
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