With the Falcons picking up cornerback Kelvin Hayden, I went back and watched four of his games from 2010 to see how Hayden could potentially fit in here in Atlanta. If you’re wondering which games I watched, it was: Week 2 vs. Giants, Week 3 vs. Broncos, Week 8 vs. Texans, and Week 10 vs. Bengals.
Pros: A good athlete with good hips and quick feet. Shows good speed to turn and run with receivers. Does a nice job closing on the ball upfield when he can keep things in front of him. That’s when he’s at his best. Does a nice job defending the underneath stuff, able to jump routes on the comebacks and slants to break up passes. Shows nice ball skills. Willing in run support, will set the edge, and deliver hit to the ball carrier. Shows good speed and range when working in zone and can cover a lot of ground, showing good awareness. Comfortable playing in either off or press coverage and has the size and speed to be effective in both. Has a knack for making the big play with two defensive touchdowns on interceptions last year.
Cons: Doesn’t always do a good job defending the deep ball and when he’s in jump ball situations, not going to make very many plays. Gives up too much cushion at times, which can lead to mistakes after the catch. Not as physical in run support as his size would merit, and misses a lot of tackles in the open field because he doesn’t do a great job breaking down and wrapping up. Will take some bad angles in space.
2011 Outlook: Hayden was brought in by the Falcons to solidify their depth and add a starter-quality defender to play in nickel situations. They did a good job finding him because he has the ability to do so. The questions about Hayden stem from him coming from a different scheme in Indianapolis, and whether he can excel doing the things the Falcons will ask him to do.
For the Colts, Hayden lineup primarily at the left corner position, played a ton of off zone in their base Cover-2 scheme. Playing in the slot will be fairly new to him. But he does have the skills to do it, it’s just that it’s probably a role he won’t excel in. He has the tools to be a capable man cover corner, but again it’s not something he’s likely to excel in.
What the Falcons should like about Hayden is he is sort of a mix of the skills of Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. He has the size and smooth athleticism similar to Robinson, but has better ball skills. He doesn’t grade out as well there as Grimes does. But the positive thing is that like Robinson, he is a solid press corner, but like Grimes he’s also good in off coverage when he can keep things in front of him.
Hayden wasn’t asked to blitz very much with the Colts, but with his speed and burst upfield, he has the potential to be very effective in that role here in Atlanta. The Falcons often dialed up the blitzes with Brian Williams in the slot last year, and have also done so with Dominique Franks in the preseason.
One of the issues Hayden may face here in Atlanta that he did not have in Indianapolis is the drop-off in pass rush. With the Colts, Hayden and the other Colts defenders benefited from the fact that they did not have to cover for as long because of guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis up front forcing teams to rely on quicker reads and throws. Times when teams were able to protect their quarterback and get their receivers on vertical routes, Hayden did not always shine there. And while the Falcons are hopeful that the addition of Ray Edwards along with John Abraham will make their pass rush more formidable, it’s still going to fall short of what Freeney and Mathis could do.
In Summary… Hayden is a very good addition to Atlanta. He’s a definite upgrade over what the Falcons were going to use this year with Franks and Owens, neither of whom have his athleticism, speed, or awareness in coverage. It may take Hayden some time to transition to the Falcons scheme in contrast to what he did with the Colts, but he should be an effective nickel corner at the least, and potentially good one if that transition goes smoothly. He definitely gives the Falcons someone that they can be confident going up against slot receivers like Marques Colston and Greg Jennings this year and not get abused. That sort of confidence has not been around the Falcons secondary in quite a while now.