Following the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2017” list, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks picked a handful of players from the list to review in greater detail using all-22 coaches film. His goal such as he laid it out was to determine if the players in question were legitimate stars (players who can succeed regardless of system) or system guys (players who need to play in a particular scheme in order to have success). As you can tell from the headline, Brooks analyzed Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward and came to the conclusion that he is a “system guy.”
To be clear, Brooks is not suggesting that Hayward is not a good player. In fact, he writes that Hayward has a “spectacular combination of ball skills, instincts and playmaking ability“ and that “he essentially shut down one half of the field for the Chargers with his ballhawking skills on the island.“ Now, that sounds more like a star than what you’d traditionally call a system guy. Brooks elaborates, though, saying:
Hayward isn't a traditional shutdown corner in the truest sense of the term. Instead of blanketing WR1s with a suffocating bump-and-run technique, he specializes in delivering splash plays as a "see ball, get ball" cornerback in a zone scheme that allows him to "pattern read" (recognize route combinations) from a distance.
The worry for Chargers fans starts to creep in when you realize that the system in which Hayward excelled was run by a defensive coordinator, John Pagano, who is no longer on the coaching staff. Where that worry should stop is the realization that new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley runs a ton of zone concepts and that Hayward most likely fits the new scheme just as well as the old. Hayward is a perfectly capable corner in man coverage, but he clearly is at his best when he is allowed to play more often in zone. Brooks’ decision to label players as either “stars” or “system guys” makes it sound like he’s being more insulting than he actually is.
Is Casey Hayward just a system player? After all, does it really matter if the system the Chargers run is the one where he excels?