17

May

Charles Woodson, Casey Hayward and the Trend of Versatile Cornerbacks in Today’s NFL

Casey Hayward

Versatility could be Casey Hayward's greatest strength.

Remember when the NFL was about taking your best 11 guys and putting them against the other team’s best 11 guys? Those days are over.

Well, kind of. You still want your best 11 against their best 11, but those 11 change throughout the game much more often than they used to.

Today’s NFL is all about matchups and sub packages. Of course, certain players are so good that they will never leave the field, but just because a guy doesn’t play all three downs doesn’t mean he’s an inferior player. It means his skills might be a better fit in specialized situations, perhaps as a pass rusher on obvious passing downs, a slot corner on third down or a run stuffer in short-yardage.

Sub packages also depend on a coordinator’s scheme and gameplan. On defense, most coordinators these days want to try and create as much confusion for the offense as possible. Causing chaos is always good, too. The coordinator is likely asking himself how he can maximize the skills of each of his players to achieve the general goal of creating confusion and causing chaos, and he knows that this goal is easier to achieve with players that have diversified skill sets in line with the coordinator’s overall defensive vision.

I think we’re getting used to this concept on the front seven. We understand that tackles like Casey Hampton play on running downs and absorb as many blockers as possible so teammates can make plays. We also know that guys like Aldon Smith specialize in rushing the quarterback and are extremely valuable on third downs and obvious passing situations.

I think more teams are trying to find that sort of versatility with their cornerbacks and I think the Packers hope they found that versatility with Casey Hayward.

Some corners will always line up on the outside. That will never change. But with receivers getting bigger and bigger and tight ends morphing into super freaks, defenses need corners that are sort of hybrid corners/safeties, players who are just as comfortable streaking down the field with a slot receiver as they are mixing it up with a TE or blitzing the quarterback. They need corners that are comfortable mucking it up in the middle of the field, but can also go outside if needed.

Charles Woodson has filled this role for the Packers over the last couple of years and more teams want to mold and create their own Charles Woodson. Of course, every team wants a player of Woodson’s caliber (and Woodson wasn’t the first player to fill this specific role), but I think you’re seeing more teams actively scouting and developing corners with the hope that they’ll fill a Woodson type of role. They want a corner that can do more in the middle of the field besides just cover a slot receiver.

If Hayward fits as that hybrid corner with the Packers, it accomplishes two things:

  1. Finding a replacement for Woodson. Who knows how many plays Woodson has left before he retires and focuses on making wine. If Hayward can trasition into Woodson’s role, the Packers would be thrilled.
  2. In the short term, it helps the Packers cover up for a weakness at free safety. Who knows if Woodson will officially move to safety. I don’t think he will, but it’s May. We don’t know. But even if he doesn’t officially make the move, you can bet he’ll be doing what he usually does, moving around the field and doing things that only a safety used to do in the “old” NFL. If Hayward can do many of those same things at a competent level, it gives Dom Capers another ingredient to use as he tries to devise a recipe to confuse defenses and cause as much chaos as possible.

Most scouting reports say Hayward is too small to play safety in the NFL even though he’s a good tackler. Hayward made 18 tackles for a loss against the run in college and he’s extremely quick and agile. Sounds like a good fit to fill the hybrid corner role to me.

I know it’s May and it’s silly to try and project roles for players this far out of training camp. But with so many new faces on the Packers defense, playing amateur defensive coordinator is a great way to kill time between now and the start of training camp.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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17 Responses to “Charles Woodson, Casey Hayward and the Trend of Versatile Cornerbacks in Today’s NFL”

  1. calipackfan says:

    Vamos Casey Hayward tu puedes!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Steve Cheez says:

    “creating confusion and causing chaos”- nice alliteration!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. [...] calculating, and analytical side of me loves the modern era of football. I was reading another excellent post by Adam Czech about the rise of versatile corners and defensive specialists, and I began to wonder, will football every be as simple as the veer [...]

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  4. Ron LC says:

    All I want is a Safety that can breakup the despiration passes into the end zone. Oh, and 3rd and 20 attempts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • BigTiger says:

      And 4th and 26th attempts …

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Tarynfor12 Tarynfor12 says:

      OK you two,the’All I Want’for XMAS list is getting long…end zone break-ups,3rd and 20′s,4th and 26ths..next you’ll want 2nd and 5′s too.It’s only May take it easy.LOL

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. Jeremiah says:

    I don’t think it’s too early at all to start projecting. That’s what the coaching staff is obviously doing. We know what Hayward’s strong suits are, and I agree that he’s best suited to be Woodson-like.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Adam Czech says:

      Do we know what Hayward’s strong suits are? Yeah, projecting is what coaches are doing now, but they have much better access to information than we do.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. PackersRS says:

    Very interesting topic. Aldon Smith was a monster last year, but, like you said, he only played the pass. He was much better at it than most linebackers/DEs, and that’s the most important part of a pass rusher.

    But do you place him above guys that play 3 downs?

    And further along, with the prospect of specialization all around, will we see these guys, that don’t play 3 downs, enshrined in Canton?

    To me the answer is still no. I’ve seen a lot of experts saying Aldon Smith already is one of the top OLBs in the league, but to me it’s an affront to those who came before to consider a player that doesn’t play every down, because he can’t, one of the best.

    However, if you go to the beginnings of the game, I’d bet that guys that played the “one platoon football” would think the same way about defense or offense only players.

    We’re already seeing a very different sport than it was in the 90′s, but 10 years from now, the difference might be as big as the move that happened in those days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Turophile says:

    Don’t worry about how a one-dimensional player ranks against a complete player.
    You can tear your hair out trying to compare apples to oranges.

    Find what a guy is good at and put him in a position where he can do what he does well. In three years time Aldon might be a great cover linebacker, or a great run defender, but that was not the case with him last year. The 49ers (and the Packers) try to put guys in situations where they can do well.

    Capers has said as much and more than once.

    There is a draft theory (with some sense to it) that says draft the best guys early, but in the later rounds it can be better to target guys who have (at least) one outstanding asset (size/speed/ strength/smarts or instincts) than one who is a decent all rounder.

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  8. Oppy says:

    Can’t dispute the TFL stats, but from the little I’ve seen of Hayward on film, he’s certainly not afraid to mix it up and hit guys- there’s tape of him getting right up in OT’s and OG’s faces and getting after it.. And he’s not bashful about contact with the ball carrier.

    That being said, he did not look like a good tackler to me at all. Most of his stops, while physical, consisted of him throwing his shoulder/body at the ball carrier’s lower body. It’s aggressive, he shows no fear, and I like that.. But it’s poor tackling, and he’ll get abused by pro players if he doesn’t learn to properly tackle.

    Again, It’s not like I’ve watched a ton of his film, but it’s been a recurring theme in what I have seen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Adam Czech says:

      Sounds like fundamentals on defense will be a focus for McCarthy and Capers in training camp. Hopefully they can bring Hayward up to speed.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Oppy says:

        Adam, I’ve actually been surprised that the fans and media haven’t been a bit more leery about MM’s promises to focus on fundamentals and tackling.

        The last 3 years running, tackling has been a highlighted issue; the last three years, the Packers have highlighted their installation of new tackling drills and even extra periods in practice dedicated to football fundamentals.

        For example, the push was so strong last year to improve proper tackling (and ball protection), they actually started running a drill where every player- offense and defense, kicker to OL to RB to DB- take turns carrying a ball and jumping over a pad, where another player comes up, form tackles the ball carrier and drives him to the mat. every single player.

        The results were not an improvement from 2010.

        Not to be a debbie downer, I hope they do change it around, but I’m afraid at this point I have to see to believe since they have had this same focus for a few offseasons in a row now with little return on the investment. I hope they can show me they can turn this team’s poor tackling around.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        • Adam Czech says:

          Yeah, I hear what you’re saying. Usually when I hear talk about “working on fundamentals” I just tune it out as typical cliche coach-speak, but given how bad things got last season, I kind of believe McCarthy this time.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        • PackersRS says:

          We’re not leery exactly because, after all this time, we understand exactly how MM works.

          He’s gonna emphasise it, to some degree, but nobody’s expecting this to be a great tackling team. It never has been under MM, it never will be.

          Pad level.

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