The Los Angeles Chargers had a rough 2016 season when the team was still playing in San Diego, but one of the major bright spots was the play of cornerback Casey Hayward.
Hayward was not even one of the marquee names on the free-agent market last year, which is why his signing by the Chargers went relatively unnoticed. He didn’t garner much interest from other teams.
Initially, it was thought that Hayward would serve in nickel packages behind Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers, and that’s how the season began. But Verrett went down with a season-ending injury in Week 4 against the New Orleans Saints. That came one week after he was beaten for a game-winning touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton against the Indianapolis Colts.
Hayward was thrust into the starting lineup, and fans hoped he could hold his own. He did that, and then some.
A second-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2012, Hayward had six interceptions as a rookie. But he had a total of three interceptions in the next three seasons combined and by the end of his tenure in Green Bay, he was nothing more than an afterthought…. on a team with a poor secondary.
Most fans hoped that Hayward still had something left, and he proved that he does. Hayward took the loss of Verrett as a personal challenge to show he can be a top-level cornerback.
Hayward’s seven interceptions led the NFL and he was selected to participate in his first Pro Bowl. That gives the team hope for the future in the secondary.
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In 2017, the team will have a new defensive scheme as former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley takes over as the team’s defensive coordinator. The man behind the Legion of Boom, he should be able to work wonders with the pairing of Hayward and Verrett.
When he ran the defense of the Seattle Seahawks, Bradley helped create one of the best secondaries the league has ever seen. He had great tools to work with, but it’s not too far fetched to think that San Diego could get to that level.
Hayward struggled for several years in Green Bay, but that team sure would have liked his services this season, right? Perhaps the Packers gave up on him too soon, as Hayward showed all of the traits that made him a second-round draft pick to begin with. Solid coverage ability, awareness and great ball skills.
Hayward’s success will likely signal the end of the marriage between the Chargers and Flowers, as Hayward ended up being the player the Chargers were looking for when they signed Flowers in 2014.
Still, many fans in Green Bay remember Hayward’s strong rookie season in 2012. They also remember his quick drop-off in the years that followed. Is there any chance 2016 was a fluke for Hayward, or will he continue where he left off under the tutelage of Bradley?
Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.