In 2003, the Green Bay Packers acquired a cornerback by the name of Al Harris from the Eagles. He went on to make two Pro Bowl teams and receive a Super Bowl ring with the Packers. In 2006, the Packers signed free agent DB Charles Woodson, who made several Pro Bowls as a Packer and was also the 2009 AP Defensive Player of the Year. Since those two departed, in 2008 and 2012 respectively, the Packers defensive backfield has been a collection of also-rans, aging vets, and up-and-comers.
Amid veterans like Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush, one young player has begun to separate himself from the pack – Casey Hayward.
Drafted by the Packers in the second round of the 2012 draft due to his ball skills and intelligence, the young Hayward impressed in his first NFL season, recording 53 tackles and a total of 6 interceptions, an impressive total for a rookie. He also forced a fumble.
With the Packers’ front office focusing mostly on the pass rush and contract extensions this offseason, it’s going to be extremely important for the Packers’ younger defensive backs to step it up and bring the kind of consistency the unit has lacked for the last two-plus years. By all indications, Hayward has the smarts and skills to be the next great cover guy in Green Bay, following in Harris, Woodson, and to a lesser extent Williams’ footsteps.
Where Hayward excels is his lack of penalties, his intelligence, and his character. He has all the tools of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, and the environment seems right to induce the kind of ‘next step’ a young player needs in order to scale the NFL’s learning curve and become a consistent force on the field. Hayward should be the next poster boy for Packers GM Ted Thompson’s draft and develop strategy that has already yielded so much success. By this time next year, Hayward may be a household name.