Much like the race for offensive rookie of the year, defensive rookie of the year will have more than a few solid candidates.
First, the other two guys I believe to be in the hunt are Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly and Chandler Jones (although you have to admit Vontaze Burfict is playing phenomenally well especially for an undrafted free-agent rookie).
I think you can make a good argument for those guys. I won't be doing that, though, as today, I will be telling you why, as good as they are, Casey Hayward is your Defensive Rookie of the Year.
When Charles Woodson moved over to safety part time, there were a lot of folks who were unsure who would fill his shoes.
For many Packers fans, the choices of Sam Shields or Jarrett Bush were unappealing, while Davon House was unproven.
Even as a rookie, Hayward would get his shot, though not many folks believed he would end up with the job.
As it turns out, Sam Shields was the first guy to step into the spot across from Tramon Williams, but Hayward found himself opposite Williams anyway, several injuries later.
Since stepping in during Week 6 against the Houston Texans, he has excelled.
In October he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month, having put together a stunning stretch including four of his interceptions and more than a dozen tackles—an impressive haul for anyone, let alone a rookie just getting his feet.
We know that rookie defensive backs (and young D-backs in general) are targeted more often due to their inexperience. Add in the fact that he is opposite Williams—a bona fide stud cornerback—and you know he sees more than his fair share of targets.
Teams are beginning to learn that they can't pick on the rookie without some consequences, though. Along with his five interceptions (his fifth pick coming this weekend against the Lions), Hayward has 14 passes defensed.
He may not pick off every pass, but he will stop a great deal of them.
It's not just about the interceptions, though those have a huge impact. Hayward is also a very willing and effective tackler, supporting the run defense as well as pursuing receivers after the catch. He takes very good angles, wraps up well and finishes his tackles.
The young secondary has been tested this year due to injury. Nobody has stepped in and stepped up more than Hayward, and I don't see any defensive rookies making as big an impact as the corner from Vanderbilt has.
While Hayward was a player expected to step in as a starting corner down the road, that he has been able to do so quickly and efficiently has been a lifesaver for this banged-up defense.
There are few rookies on either side of the ball who have helped their team more than Casey Hayward.
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