For the last two years I’ve been making a list of 5 guys that have to be good. This kind of list isn’t obvious. You’re not going to find Aaron Rodgers on this list. These are guys that you might not think of right away regarding the overall success of the Packers.
That’s the thing, though. Aaron Rodgers is going to play well. Clay Matthews, should he stay healthy is going to play well. Eddie Lacy’s going to be good and so is the offensive line. The players that we know are good are more than likely going to play well.
It’s the players that are “in the margins” that can make the difference between another 11 or 12 win team with a playoff “run” and a 13 or 14 win team and the 14th World Championship in Packers history.
There are few players that are as interesting a study as Casey Hayward. Advanced statistics and guys that are big on film study think Hayward is a star. I tend to fall in with that crowd. Others point to Hayward’s extensive work in the slot and have concern that it may or may not translate to the outside.
The thing is, Hayward has to play outside because Micah Hyde probably can’t. Hyde has always been a safety/slot cornerback type. Hyde worked almost exclusively as a slot corner as a rookie, and as either a safety or slot corner a year ago. There is no proof that Hyde can play outside. There seems to be no question that the Packers’ best 5 DB set includes Hayward, Sam Shields, Hyde, Morgan Burnett and HaHa Clinton-Dix (who is going to be a Pro Bolwer but that’s a different article).
Unless the Packers don’t want Hyde on the field, Hayward is going to have to play outside in both the base and the nickel. It’s certainly possible that the Packers like Damarious Randall, Demetri Goodson, Ladarius Gunter or even Tay Glover-Wright enough to use them outside and allow Hayward to play his more natural slot position but where does that leave Hyde? There’s no way that if the Packers are in a 5 defensive back set that Micah Hyde isn’t one of the best 5 players.
As I outlined here, it’s clear that I believe Hayward can play outside. During the rookie season that made so many people fall in love with Hayward as a player, he spent 52% of his snaps playing outside cornerback. He has the capability to do it but he needs to stay healthy and he needs to excel.
One of the main reasons that Hayward must play well is that as of right now Sam Shields is not an elite cornerback. The term “shutdown” corner is overused because there are probably only 5 or 6 of them in the league and there are 32 teams. Not every team is going to have one. The issue is that Shields is being paid as a top 10 corner in the league. According to Pro Football Focus out of 108 cornerbacks that played at least 25% of their team’s snaps Shields ranked 71st. Shields gave up a QB rating of 89.9 when targeted.
The reason that I bring up Sam Shields’ shortcomings is that it doesn’t appear the Packers can allow Shields to track #1 receivers all day long and give Casey Hayward a break as he adjusts to somewhat of a new position. Unless Shields can give them more, the Packers are going to at worst have to continue to play left corner and right corner and at best play boundary corner and field corner (also explained in the previous Hayward link). If Hayward (and Shields for that matter) can’t step up the losses of Davon House and Tramon Williams will become very real.
There have been two big questions about the Green Bay Packers in the 4 seasons since the Super Bowl championship of 2010. Health and defense. Health is largely about luck. The coaching and training staff have made tremendous efforts to improve the overall health of the team and to keep injuries from happening. What is more tangible and honestly more important is the defense. The defense doesn’t have to be great. It just has to be good enough not to let down the best offense in the league. If Casey Hayward can stay healthy and reach his potential as an outside corner the defense can be good enough. Casey Hayward has to be good.