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November 28, 2021

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Casey Hayward signing could prove pivotal for Raiders

Raiders OTA Practice 3

Steve Marcus

Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. (29) catches a pass during an off-season practice at the Raiders practice facility in Henderson Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

It wasn’t the flashiest move of the offseason for the Las Vegas Raiders, who made a much bigger splash by signing star pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue early in free agency, but the acquisition of veteran cornerback Casey Hayward could end up being the most impactful addition on the defensive side of the ball.

The Raiders once again struggled with pass defense in 2020, giving up 7.3 yards per pass attempt (25th in the league) while allowing opponents to compile a passer rating of 95.3 (20th). Hayward, a 10th-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler, should be able to help after signing a 1-year deal with Las Vegas.

Hayward’s numbers slipped a bit in 2020, which was his age-31 season, but all indications are that he can still play. In 14 games last season  he allowed a completion percentage of 49.4 when targeted, and while those plays went for 16.6 yards per completion, Hayward’s QB rating allowed of 93.6 would have been an improvement over Raiders corners Damon Arnette (106.9), Nevin Lawson (113.0), Isaiah Johnson (114.8), Keisean Nixon (135.1) and Amik Robertson (149.3).

During mini-camp, head coach Jon Gruden touted Hayward as not just an experienced voice, but as a player who could earn a significant role on the defense.

“Hayward is going to be a veteran that brings us some seasoning and some day-to-day consistency,” Gruden said. “He’s going to provide a lot of competition, I promise you that. He’s not here to give away his job.”

Las Vegas hired Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator shortly after last season, and he should know better than anyone how much Hayward has left to give. Bradley served as the Chargers’ DC for the past four years and should therefore understand how to get the most out of Hayward.

Hayward is clearly comfortable in Bradley’s zone coverage scheme.

On this play from Week 1, Hayward is able to quickly diagnose the route, anticipate the throw, break on the ball and bat it down for an incompletion:

Nothing about that play was flashy, but that’s the kind of consistent coverage Las Vegas is hoping Hayward will bring to the table.

Hayward also comes with a ton of AFC West experience. He has played 129 games in the NFL, and in spending his last five years with the Chargers he has developed a deep familiarity for the division.

It shows in his play. Last year, Hayward put up some of his best performances against divisional competition. In three games against AFC West opponents (excluding the Raiders), he allowed four completions on 10 targets. The completions went for 74 yards (7.4 yards per target).

Against the Denver Broncos in Week 16, Hayward only logged 35 percent of the defensive snaps but still managed to make his presence felt.

On this first-quarter play, Hayward was tasked with defending receiver Tim Patrick in the red zone. Patrick is 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, but Hayward dealt with his physicality and stayed tight as Patrick ran a stop route. Quarterback Drew Locke was forced to scramble and threw a pass that got deflected, and Hayward was right there to haul it in for a crucial interception:

The Chargers went on to win that game, 16-13.

That was Hayward’s only interception of the season, but he has been a ball magnet in the past. He picked off six passes as a rookie in 2012, snagged a league-high seven INTs in 2016, then nabbed four the next year.

Even if Hayward doesn’t deliver game-changing plays with regularity — that would be asking a lot of a 32-year-old defensive back — he should still provide value simply by being on the team. If Hayward is healthy and available to soak up snaps, it will push players like Arnette, Lawson, Johnson, Nixon and Robertson further down the depth chart.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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