I can hear it now, “What!? He can’t be serious.” Thinking that Hayward could be “the guy” over Jason Verrett is reason enough for total damnation, but hear me out.
Don’t get me wrong, I love FEEVA (Jason Verrett) and Flo (Brandon Flowers) just as much as you do. Trust me. Verrett’s presence is enough to irritate the leagues elite receivers. Throw in some serious man coverage skills and you have, what they call, a one-man island.
However, unfortunately it is an unreliable island. Although effective while on the field, Jason Verrett has not played a full season since the San Diego Chargers drafted him with their first pick (25th overall) in the 2014 draft.
As for Brandon Flowers, this was supposed to be his “comeback” year after an uncharacteristic 2015 season. Back to back concussions and a handful of missed games have already left question marks on his return in 2016. If Charger corners could stay healthy this may be a different story, but the fact is they aren’t, and the best players in the NFL are the players that are on the field.
That leads me right into it, four reasons Casey Hayward should be the Chargers number one cornerback. Yes…the guy who covers the other team’s number one receiver.
This is number one on my list for a reason. Other than his sophomore season, (in 2013) when he had to sit out after just three games due to a hamstring injury, Casey has been reliable, game ready, and efficient at the cornerback position. Hayward is the type of player coaches love, always willing to do what’s best for the team. Playing the nickel at times and covering the number one receiver other times has shown his versatility. While still making plays with the consistency we have grown accustomed to, he is on the field on almost every snap. Casey has proven his ability to withstand the wear and tear of an NFL season, while still keeping his name in the mix of the NFL’s top-tier defensive backs.
Other than making second-team All-American, pre-draft scouts loved Hayward’s ball-hawking skills, raving over his game intelligence and natural instincts. Casey quickly showed off these skills his rookie season in 2012, intercepting four balls and causing opposing QBs to have a passer rating of about 31. Against him, that was the lowest for any corner in the league. Now, going into week 11, Casey currently leads the league in interceptions with six. He also has the admiration of Philip Rivers, with Phil saying “He just has a knack for the ball,” and also calling him a very smart player, saying he knew it while playing against Hayward in Green Bay. Phil shreds defensive backs for a living, literally, so if he says Casey is smart… I’d take it as Casey Hayward is border-line genius.
Whatever it is you may need from a cornerback, Casey can deliver, and has done so in two different systems. Whether it be tight man-coverage on the outside or a soft-zone in the nickel, he can do it. Jason Verrett has stated before that he isn’t as “comfortable” in the nickel. Brandon Flowers also looks uncomfortable at the position, while on the other hand, Hayward has proven to be effective at both nickel and outside coverage. This is a plus due to the fact that receivers are moving around more every year. It is not uncommon for a number one receiver to move to the slot position from time to time. Having a corner comfortable in all situations can greatly hamper the opposing offense. Something to think about.
Lets be honest, we all love interceptions, but for good reason, it gives your teams offense the ball back. So wouldn’t it make sense for your # 1 cornerback be a proven ball hawk? I’ve seen Casey Hayward make catches some receivers can’t make. Whether it’s getting the ball at its highest point, or toe tapping the sidelines for the catch, Hayward will get the ball and make the play. He reeled in three interceptions his 2014-2015 campaign as a Packer, while allowing only two touchdowns, with Pro Football Focus ranking Hayward as the 9th best cornerback on any team that year. He still continues to earn his ball hawk reputation with his current six interceptions. Hayward is on pace for around 10 this season, which would equal Antonio Cromartie for the franchise’s most in a season.
Yes, Casey has clearly been the best free agency decision this past off-season for the Chargers, and possible league-wide. He is already making noise for a pro bowl appearance and best DB in the league. Casey Hayward came in as a nickel back, but due to injury, has become the number one cornerback. Fortunately, he has shown up, doing enough in his current role to make it his permanent role. Allow me to end by wishing Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers a speedy recovery. Hope to see you both on the field soon.