Well, supposedly anyway. We haven’t actually seen Casey Hayward play this year because, well… because San Diego Chargers.
Who gives a rat’s ass?
What we can tell you are two things, though. Through three games, Hayward has 11 tackles and three — yes, three! — interceptions. He’s also Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked cornerback in the entire NFL. Hayward has an 88.7 grade, which puts him slightly ahead of some other guys you’ve probably heard of — Josh Norman (87.2), Patrick Peterson (86.7), Chris Harris (86.4) and Joe Haden (85.3).
Those guys are three through six in the rankings. Hayward trails only Oakland’s David Amerson (92.5).
But Hayward plays the slot, you say!? He’s not matching up with No. 1 or 2 receivers, you say!?
Casey Hayward has to be the most underrated corner in the NFL. Doesn't even play slot anymore and still PFF's 2nd highest graded CB
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 28, 2016
Of course, the Green Bay Packers let Hayward walk as a free agent during the offseason. They had good reason for doing so. Not only did they have a glut of younger cornerbacks they wanted to get on the field — Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter — but Randall outplayed Hayward as a boundary corner. Although Hayward opened the season on the outside, he concluded it back in the slot because Randall was better in that role.
That’s not to say Hayward was bad. PFF still gave him an 80.5 grade, but the playmaking ability he flashed as a rookie was missing. In his final season with the Packers, Hayward had no picks and just seven passes defended. He already has five of those this year to go along with his three picks.
Maybe you want to argue that facing QBs like Andrew Luck and Blake Bortles has helped Hayward make plays? After all, those two guys play fairly fast and loose.
Sure, but you still have to make the plays.
That brings me to the Packers’ situation this year. After having an awesome week 1 (as a No. 2), Randall has played terribly since (as a No. 1). Rollins hasn’t been much better, although he seemingly got his worst game out of the way in the first week.
Did the Packers make a mistake letting Hayward walk? It would be hard to say they did with the depth they had. Plus, they’ll get a compensatory pick for doing so.
That said, it’s pretty obvious Hayward is playing better than the guys the Packers were counting on to replace him.