Casey Hayward turned in an impressive rookie campaign. The cornerback from Vanderbilt, now in his second NFL season, led the Green Bay Packers in interceptions (six) and passes defensed (21) — good enough to make the NFL’s top five in interceptions in 2012. Hayward came in third in voting for the Associated Press’ NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, won by Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.
When you lead your team and are among the league leaders in defense’s sexiest statistic, you must be in line for a starting role, yes?
Not necessarily. Despite actually starting seven games for the Packers last year, Hayward may not be moved out of his customary slot coverage position, the “nickel” back. With Hayward’s success in the role, previously manned by now-departed defensive back Charles Woodson, the Packers would be wise to let him settle in. Forcing Hayward out to the edges to cover “X” and “Z” receivers may not be to his strengths.
As a young and developing player, the Packers would like to throw more challenges at Hayward — particularly in the offseason and training camp.
Reports this spring indicated that he will be given an opportunity to vie for a starting role. He will compete with former Pro Bowler Tramon Williams, resurgent Sam Shields and Davon House. Whether outside or inside, if Hayward remains in his slot cover role, he may still pick up 2013 starts as many teams open up in three- or four-wide formations.
It’s a safe bet that the young and promising Hayward will be one of Green Bay’s top defensive backs. What isn’t guaranteed is continuing success.
Among interception leaders since 2000, nobody has topped the list two years in a row. In fact, only a few players, the Hall of Fame-bound Ed Reed and Charles Woodson, and the underrated Darren Sharper and Asante Samuel, top the list more than once. You have to go all the way back to the 1981-1982 seasons to get a back-to-back NFL interception leader: Everson Walls.
As they say, interceptions, like sacks and fumble recoveries, come in bunches. Having a nose for the ball is one thing, but leading the league in interceptions is rarely a consistent achievement. It hasn’t been done in a long time, and the Packers cannot expect to reap the same level of ball-hawking in year two of Hayward’s career.
Even the Hall of Famers couldn’t do it.
The career trajectory for Casey Hayward is clearly pointing up. His second-year statistics may not match his remarkable 2012 season, however.