Thursday, February 9, 2012
The SEC's top 25 players: No. 23
By ESPN.com staff
The No. 23 player on our postseason countdown leaves school with 13 interceptions over his last two seasons.
No. 23: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt, Sr.
Preseason rank: No. 23
2011 numbers: Hayward finished second in the SEC and tied for fourth nationally with seven interceptions. He led the SEC with 17 passes defended and was third on Vanderbilt's team with 62 total tackles, including 7.5 for loss. He was a Walter Camp second-team All-American and a second-team All-SEC selection by both the coaches and Associated Press.
Why he's here: There was a lot to like about Hayward and his game, but his ball skills were right there at the top of the list. He made a ton of plays for the Commodores, and if the ball was thrown in a place where he could get it, he was usually racing the other way with an interception. Hayward went up against a lot of big-time receivers this season, too, and the Vanderbilt defensive staff had enough confidence in him to leave him out there alone most of the time. Hayward had two picks in the bowl game. He had a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown against Connecticut to tie that game late in the fourth quarter, and his late interception on the goal line against Georgia gave the Commodores a chance to win that game. Hayward's consistency was one of the things that set him apart. He was smart, instinctive and always around the ball, and few cornerbacks have come through the league the past few years that could match Hayward's productivity on the field.