It’s no secret that the Packers lost two cornerbacks that have the ability to play outside. Tramon Williams was the team’s #1 corner a season ago. He has the ability to play nickel, which he might be asked to do in Cleveland. The Browns spent a 1st round pick on Justin Gilbert a season ago and have superstar Joe Haden as their top guy. Davon House didn’t really have the ability to slide inside but was a passable outside CB. That leaves Green Bay with what appear to be one outside corner who didn’t play that well on a big contract in Sam Shields and two slot CBs in Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward.
That might not be completely on point. Micah Hyde is an inside CB. Hyde is a playmaker and a great tackler, but he’s more suited to his hybrid safety/linebacker/slot corner role. It’s not likely that he can play as a man corner outside. Hayward is a different story. Hayward played outside in college, and has played outside in the pros. Wherever he’s played, he’s been effective.
Hayward was the runner up for defensive rookie of the year in 2012. He came in second to Luke Kuechly of the Panthers, but put together a phenomenal season. Pro Football Focus ranked him 4th out of all cornerbacks in the NFL. His coverage ranking was 3rd. He only allowed a passer rating of 31.3 at passes thrown in his direction, best in the league. His 6 interceptions caught the eyes of the national media. He was fantastic.
What most people will say is, yeah but he’s a slot corner. That’s not actually entirely true. Hayward only played in the slot for 338 of his 702 snaps that season. That’s 48%. He actually played outside more often than he played inside that season. Sam Shields went down from week 7-13 that season and Hayward had to move to the outside. Hayward had 2 interceptions and allowed only 17 completions on 40 targets.
We had Cheesehead TV’s Brian Carriveau on From The Benches this last week. He brought up a theory that I share. I think the best thing for this Packers team would be to make Casey Hayward this team’s version of Charles Woodson. I’m not saying that Hayward is a player of Woodson’s caliber, few are. But what he mentioned and what I agree with is that it’s possible Hayward should play outside in the base and slide inside like Woodson did during the later stages of his career.
During the Super Bowl season of 2010 Sam Shields actually was the nickel cornerback. When Green Bay went to their 2-4-5 nickel Shields would come in and play outside across from Tramon Williams. Woodson would play inside and cause all sorts of problems for the defense. The key to that theory is to find the third corner that can play outside. The reason that this option is great is the Randal Cobb Theory. Casey Hayward just might be the best slot corner in football so why not find an average outside corner and keep him inside?
The other possibility is to keep Hayward outside, play Hyde inside and team them with Shields. There are 3 basic ways to utilize a corner tandem. The first is to simply play right corner and left corner. Regardless of what hash the ball is on and what receiver is where corners stick to their own side. The Seattle Seahawks utilize that strategy. Richard Sherman never leaves his post at left corner. That’s something that Green Bay did for the most part last year. You can also have a #1 corner and a #2 corner. The #1 corner follows the team’s top receiver and the #2 the #2 receiver and so on.
The final configuration is one that I might be interested in for the Packers. Teams can divide their corners up into “boundary” corners and “field” corners. The boundary corner lines up on the short side of the field as it relates to the hash marks. If the ball is on the left hash there’s less ground to cover for the right cornerback and he takes that side of the field. The field corner plays to the wide side of the field, theoretically having the most ground to cover and the most responsibility.
If you have concerns about Haywards long speed and ability to cover outside it’s possibly that boundary corner is the place for Hayward. If you can keep Hayward to the short side of the field you can continue to utilize his playmaking ability in a tighter area. Shields should be able to line up on the wide side. That’s what you pay a corner over $9 million per season to do.
Corner is not a position that adapts well to the NFL in the first season. Casey Hayward was the exception, not the rule. Part of that problem can be minimized by the abilities of cornerback Joe Whitt. Whitt has been able to utilize both Sam Shields and Casey Hayward in important roles in their rookie seasons. He has also helped turn Shields and the aforementioned Tramon Williams into solid cornerbacks. Both players were undrafted free agents. It’s possible that the Packers draft a corner early, but it’s also possible that they don’t want to use that player outside right away. It’s time for Casey Hayward to step up, and I think he can.