Summary: One of the most underrated cornerbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft class is Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward. Over the last two seasons of college football, Hayward has been one of the best corners in terms of producing turnovers. He has been a ballhawk who has consistently produced splash plays to help the Commodores play more competitive football, especially in 2011.
Hayward earned his first playing time as a sophomore in 2009 and made 58 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and seven passes defensed. He had a breakout year as a junior with an impressive 2010 campaign when he recorded six interceptions and 17 passes defended across from Myron Lewis. Hayward was second in the nation in pass break-ups and was an All-SEC Second-Team selection too, plus he showcased his strong run defense with 70 tackles on the season.
Hayward was a pure ballhawk to start the 2011 season, snatching four interceptions in four games. After that, he cooled off, but his coverage all season remained solid. Against Arkansas, Hayward dropped three interceptions and totaled six passes broken up. He went out on a good note with two interceptions versus Cincinnati in the bowl game. Hayward had seven interceptions, 60 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 10 passes broken up in 2011.
At the Senior Bowl, Hayward was solid but did not stand out. He had a respectable 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine of 4.53. Hayward also was one of the defensive back leaders on the bench press with 19 reps of 225 pounds. That is the same total reps as Ohio State left tackle Mike Adams and one more rep than Wisconsin center Peter Konz.
Entering the NFL, Hayward looks like a nice value pick on the second day of the 2012 NFL Draft. He has enough size and ball skills to fit any NFL defense. Hayward has the quickness to play man-to-man coverage, but operates at his best in zone. He would probably be better off playing in a defense that emphasizes zone coverage over man. Hayward would be adept at providing a jam and re-routing receivers before dropping in to zone. He is very aggressive defending the run, so whoever drafts him will land a good run defender on the perimeter. Hayward could be an underrated prospect who will reward the team that drafts him.
Player Comparison: Dre' Bly. Because of the ball skills, Hayward's game is similar to Bly. The veteran of the Rams and Lions consistently produced quality interception totals throughout his 12-year career. Hayward doesn't have Bly's speed and athleticism, but they both are ballhawks who use instincts to cause turnovers. Hayward is bigger and more physical Bly. Bly played better in zone during his career, and that could be the case with Hayward.
NFL Matches: Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Minnesota, New England, Tennessee, Chicago
Hayward could be an option for a lot of teams on the second day of the 2012 NFL Draft. The Jaguars need cornerback help, and he would be a good fit in their defense. Tampa Bay needs help at cornerback and could use more than one.
The Vikings have to get help for their secondary. In the third round, Hayward could be a good acquisition for Minnesota. The Patriots needs cornerback help, and they like corners with ball skills who create turnovers. The Titans and Bears both could use a corner. Hayward would fit either defense well.
Hayward has taken pre-draft visits to the Falcons, Cowboys, Vikings, Patriots and Titans.