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October

Pro Football Focus Grades: Packers rookies stepping up on defense

After finishing dead-last in total defense last season, the Packers put an emphasis on improving their defense last offseason.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson used the 28th overall pick on USC outside linebacker Nick Perry, before trading up twice in the second round to help bolster the Pack’s struggling defense. Thompson is stingy when it comes to parting with his draft picks, but as he put it after the draft, “I’m no longer my father’s son.”

In the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Packers traded up to No. 51 overall to select Michigan State defensive end Jerel Worthy. After losing Cullen Jenkins the previous offseason, Green Bay hoped to add a versatile pass rusher to its defensive line.

Seven picks later, the Packers, again, surprised everyone by moving up to select Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward with the No. 58 pick. The secondary struggled mightily in 2011, and given the fact that Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins would no longer play for the team, the Packers wanted to add a defensive back capable of playing from day one.

And so far, Hayward certainly looks the part.

Through six weeks of the 2012 NFL regular season, Pro Football Focus has Hayward graded out as the No. 2 cornerback in football. Not the No. 2 rookie cornerback in football. The No. 2 cornerback in football, just behind Vikings veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield.

The folks at Pro Football Focus take every single play from every single game, and put each player under the microscope.

So far, Hayward has played 173 snaps on the season. PFF has charged him with just nine completions allowed, and opposing quarterbacks targeting him have combined for a league-worst 18.4 QB rating.

In the Packers’ last two games, Hayward has three interceptions. Hayward’s first pick of the season came last week in Indianapolis when he was matched up one-on-one against Reggie Wayne.┬áThe Colts No. 1 receiver torched the Packers all game, but Hayward got the better of him on that play.

At a pivotal point in the game, Hayward matches Wayne step for step and makes a great play on the ball. Not only was it an impressive play, but it’s pretty telling that the Packers’ coaching staff trusts a rookie on a receiver who had been dominant all day.