There probably isn’t a more valuable role player on the Rams’ defense than end William Hayes, a fifth-year pro out of Winston-Salem State.
Over the past two games, Hayes has recorded 2½ sacks, which is 2½ sacks more than the combined total of starting ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn in those games. When Hayes comes off the bench, usually relieving Long but also playing inside in passing situations, he usually makes something happen.
“I’m playing OK right now,” Hayes said. “I’m trying to make more plays. But I’m content with my role and I like it.”
Hayes, 27, made things happen in Sunday’s 16-13 overtime victory over San Francisco, matching his single-game career high with 1½ sacks. In the first quarter, he shared a sack with linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, combining to drop San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick for a seven-yard loss.
The 49ers overcame that negative play to score a touchdown on that drive. At the end of the first half, Hayes dropped Kaepernick again, this time on a third-and-18 play from the San Francisco 40.
“He brings a lot to us,” said assistant head coach Dave McGinnis. “He’s a great locker room guy. Plus he’s tough. He’s got some real inner-toughness to him that really helps us. And he’s versatile. He can play inside and outside, which is critical when you start talking about being able to get the proper 46 (players) on the field on Sunday.”
At 6-3, 272, which is average in size for a 4-3 end, Hayes even got a sack playing nose tackle in a three-man front two Sundays ago in Arizona. With 3½ sacks on the season, he’s just a half-sack off his career high, which came in 2009 in Tennessee, a season in which he started 11 games for the Titans.
Between spelling Long and working at tackle, Hayes is getting about 22 plays a game, meaning he’s on the field about one-third of the time for the defense. With 27 tackles, the 3½ sacks, eight quarterback pressures, three QB hits, and one of only two Rams fumble recoveries, the team is getting a lot of bang for the buck from Hayes.
He signed a one-year $900,000 deal with the Rams in April, a contract that includes the potential for an additional $150,000 if Hayes reaches certain milestones in sacks and playing time.
Prior to signing that contract, Hayes had spent his four previous NFL seasons with Tennessee, including his first three (2008-10) with Fisher as head coach.
“We liked him there at Tennessee a lot,” said McGinnis, who was with Hayes all four seasons in Nashville. “When we drafted him, he was very raw coming out of Winston-Salem State. We played him at end, but he’s strong enough to be able to play inside at the tackle, especially in nickel situations.
“Plus, the other thing that we liked about him, he was a guy that really took to Coach (Jeff) Fisher. He really liked how Jeff runs his program and what he did.”
When Hayes hit the free agency market in March, Fisher’s presence as Rams head coach was a major attraction.
“Absolutely,” Hayes said. “Great dude. I knew his formula and it works. He does a good job taking care of his players, and just making sure the players come first before anything. That’s the kind of coach you want to play for.
“Before I even took a visit to anybody, I was going to make sure I visited him first. I just came here (on a visit), and I just stayed. It worked out for the best.”
Besides his pass-rushing work, Hayes also has been very solid against the run, playing bigger than his size.
“We’ve got something good going right now,” Hayes said. “We’ve just got to keep it up; that’s the main thing.”