Casey Hayward has been one of the best free-agent signings so far
San Diego Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward has proven to be be one of the best offseason acquisitions in the NFL this year, and one of the top-performing cornerbacks in the league, period.
With San Diego losing No. 1 cornerback Jason Verrett to injury already this season, it seemed likely that Hayward would see a drop in performance as he undertook more responsibility and tougher assignments, and though last week against Oakland was his most challenging outing of the year, he was once again back on form against the Broncos on Thursday night.
Hayward was thrown at seven times on Thursday, the most this season outside of that Oakland game, and he responded with some excellent play. He allowed four receptions, but they went for a total of 21 yards and gave Trevor Siemian a passer rating of 62.2 on those plays.
He spent the bulk of his time drawing WR Demaryius Thomas in coverage, and on four targets to Thomas, Hayward allowed just one catch for 6 yards.
Take this play in the third quarter as a good example of his close coverage:
It’s not a well-thrown pass from Siemian, but just watch Hayward mirror Thomas off the line, get his hands on him, and be prepared to defend either the deep sideline pass or the back-shoulder throw. Ultimately the throw that came was really neither, but it was Hayward the more likely of the two players to make a play on any pass that did arrive.
Hayward has always been a player the analysis team at PFF has had its eye on. In his rookie season, he posted a ludicrous coverage grade of 91.7, the 12th-highest grade we have ever given a corner over a season, and by far the highest rookie grade. The next-highest rookie grade earned over the past decade was Desmond Trufant’s 87.6 in 2013. That is the 56th-best grade we have seen a cornerback earn over a season, which puts some context into just how impressive Hayward was back in 2012.
That season, he notched six interceptions, a dozen pass breakups, allowed only 43.4 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught (playing in the slot, where that figure is typically higher than outside corners), and surrendered a passer rating of 30.4. Those are Revis-at-his-best numbers, and it gave us high expectations for his career.
It never quite became the success story we were expecting, though, with a series of injuries derailing his progress, and then an opportunity to start outside for the Packers that didn’t really work out. Hayward’s performance this season, however, has proven that he can in fact play—and thrive—outside, rather than be confined to the slot.
PFF loved the San Diego Chargers’ draft this offseason. They were one of only seven teams to receive an A or A- grade from us, and so far, the performance of Joey Bosa, Hunter Henry, and Jatavis Brown are justifying that grade. It’s certainly worth noting, however, that the Chargers also struck gold on Casey Hayward, and the combination of all of that talent coming in one offseason is a big reason this team is outperforming expectations, including my own.
San Diego’s impact rookies
While we’re on the subject of the Chargers’ rookies:
- Joey Bosa played 55 snaps on Thursday after being limited to 27 in his NFL debut. It would have been more but for hurting his hand in the game and missing some snaps as they worked on it. He didn’t record a sack against the Broncos, but had another six total QB pressures and a defensive top. He’s looking like the impact player we expected him to be right off the bat.
- Tight end Hunter Henry caught six of the seven passes thrown his way for 83 yards and a touchdown. Philip Rivers’ passer rating when aiming at Henry was 155.7; when targeting all other Chargers’ receivers it fell to 71.9.
- Jatavis Brown racked up tackles, but also had a sack and forced a fumble by Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas late in the game.
- Punter Drew Kaser earned a solid punting grade against Denver, with four of his five kicks resulting in the Broncos starting inside the 20-yard line.