The Green Bay Packers may not have found their replacement to Nick Collins just yet, but what they gained with a second-round pick Friday night in the NFL Draft should help their league-worst secondary (based on yards allowed in 2011).
Continuing the defensive theme through the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, the Packers selected All-American and All-SEC defensive back Casey Hayward of Vanderbilt with the No. 62 overall pick.
Described by Packers general manager Ted Thompson as an all-around player, Hayward initially will play cornerback for the Packers, though he has some experience playing safety in college.
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“He’d be a corner,” said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. “But I think he’s a guy because of his football instincts and intelligence that if you wanted to use him at nickel some, you could. But certainly our plans are to play him at corner.”
There had been some pre-draft talk of the Packers taking a safety high after they announced Wednesday the release of Collins, a three-time Pro Bowler recovering from a neck injury that required cervical fusion surgery. Instead, they went with a guy who played all but two of his 50 career games at cornerback.
The reason for a cornerback, according to Capers, is a simple one.
“If you look at the offenses that we’re playing against with the Saints and the Lions that go four wide receivers and sometimes five out there, that’s just the nature of the game nowadays,” said Capers. “It’s pretty obvious you’ve got to be able to cover, you’ve got to be able to rush the passer because people are going to line up and throw the ball 50-60 times, and if you can’t cover, it’s going to be a long day.”
The Packers thought enough of Hayward, like fellow second-round pick Jerel Worthy, to trade up in the second round. They gave up their third-round pick (No. 90 overall) and a fifth-rounder (No. 123) to move up 28 spots to get Hayward.
At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Hayward would appear to have all the physical tools to cover NFL wide receivers. Scouting reports highlight his quick feet and hip flexibility. His 40 time was as low at 4.47 and he has been lauded as a good tackler, an area the Packers’ defense struggled a season ago.
But on Friday night, when Capers and defensive backs coach Joe Whitt spoke of their newest player, one thing stood out.
“He’s extremely smart,” said Whitt. “That’s one thing I really liked when I talked to him at the Combine. He understood what they were doing. He communicates at a high level on the field, and that’s one area that you always want to make sure that you have a lot of guys communicating so we can be on the same page with the checks. He understands what the offense is trying to do to him at all times. He can really smell routes and knows what the receivers are doing. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to be able to come in and have an opportunity to help our football team.”
“He’s a very bright guy. A classy kid,” added Capers. “He’s been a captain. He has good football instincts. When you look at his production, he has excellent ball skills. I think he’s a guy that will be able to handle if you wanted to move him around. He’s a guy, I think, that can do some of that.”
Hayward, a three-year starter for the Commodores, tied a school-record with 15 interceptions in his career (seven in 2011) and set a school-record with 46 passes defended. He was also credited with 31 touchdown-saving tackles and 18 tackles for loss.
“Every game I put on, I saw things that I liked,” said Whitt. “I saw just the way that he handled himself. He’s a very mature man on the field. He constantly brings his teammates up. He’s constantly making plays. He understands his limitations and he understands what he does well. He’s just a mature football player at a young age.”
Hayward joins a cornerback group for the Packers that includes veterans Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush, third-year pro Sam Shields, and second-year pro Davon House. Questioned Friday night about the possibility of moving the dynamic Woodson solely to safety for the upcoming season, Capers said there have been no internal discussions thus far.
Either way, the Packers like Hayward as a cornerback and he should fit in nicely with their big-play unit.
“I think I’m going to bring a lot of instincts and a lot of play-making ability,” said Hayward. “I feel like Green Bay already has that with their team. They’ve got Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. I just want to get behind those guys and learn from them.”
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org