Ted Thompson made a much publicized swing for the defensive fences last April, picking defensive players with his first six picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. Perhaps even more notable, Thompson several times traded up in the draft, jumping forward to select players he coveted. One of those players was Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward.
While Hayward’s long term career prospects are obviously still murky, there’s no doubt Thompson made the right move in the short term. Hayward’s ballyhooed “ball skills” were on full display in the 2012 season as the rookie snagged six interceptions, including a three game stretch where he picked off four passes, two of which came in the critical Week 6 match-up with Houston.
Statistically, Hayward’s rookie year ranks as one of the best in the history of the Green Bay Packers. How rare was Hayward’s performance? Well, here’s a few facts about the four guys ahead of Hayward on the list.
- Irv Comp intercepted 10 passes in 1943 and also threw seven touchdown passes. Hayward threw no touchdown passes…because cornerbacks didn’t throw passes in the 2012 version of the NFL.
- Former fifth-round pick Tom Flynn may have had the best season of any Green Bay rookie defensive back ever when he notched nine interceptions (to go with three fumble recoveries and another fumble forced) in 1984, but he never matched that production again.
- John Symank also picked off nine passes during his rookie campaign in 1957, but that was so long ago that the Packers still wore blue. Symank played in such ancient NFL history that he’d actually go on to suit up for the football version of the St. Louis Cardinals.
- Rebel Steiner (what a great name!) bested Hayward’s rookie performance with seven interceptions as a rookie, but again played so long ago that it was still cool for defensive backs to wear number 74.
Hayward’s rapid emergence as a reliable cover corner may have a far-reaching ripple effect for the Packers. You’ve no doubt heard about Charles Woodson‘s possibly imminent departure due to his $10 million price tag for the 2013 season. But Hayward, along with fellow youngster Davon House, may lessen the blow of that loss, or even help convince Woodson to stick around at a lower cost. Due to the reality that the Packers may be more willing to part ways with the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year thanks to their young players, Woodson might be more inclined to take a pay cut to stick around. It’s all hypothetical, but Hayward clearly has a positive influence that extends beyond his ability to shut down opposing receivers.