The Bills have many things to worry about this offseason, but possibly none is more important than retaining 4-year veteran safety Jairus Byrd. Safeties in the NFL today are asked to do a little bit of everything. The first thing that you look for in a safety is obviously pass defense, but you also want a guy who is powerful enough to step up in the run game, as well as create turnovers. Byrd is a hard to find talent who does all of those things very well.
Byrd was drafted in the second round of the 2009 Draft with the 42nd overall pick. He was seen by many at the time as a slow defensive back, and absolutely no one predicted that he would have the type of career that he has. But he is making a career out of proving those predictions wrong.
Byrd flew out of the gate in 2009, and earned a starting job in the 4th week of the season when both Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott were out with injury.
In his second NFL start he picked off his first pass, and never looked back. At the end of the year he was tied for the lead in interceptions with nine total, while only starting in 11 games. Through that he earned his first Pro Bowl invite. 2009 was by far his flashiest season, but despite his interception numbers he wasn’t the all around player that we see today.
Today Byrd is one of the top safeties in the league not just in interceptions but in every aspect of the position. I’m not saying he has lost his ability to create turnovers, what I’m saying is the rest of his game has improved drastically.
Byrd is THE best pass defending safety that there is. What some say he lacks in top end speed, he most definitely makes up for with instinct, and ability to know where the play is going. Byrd only allowed 16 receptions in his coverage all last season while leading the AFC in interceptions. He has that “X factor” when it comes to defending the pass, and quarterbacks dread throwing it in his direction.
But like I said earlier, safeties have to do more than just one thing nowadays.
If being the best pass defending safety in the league wasn’t enough, add to that enough power to make stops in the run game, and you have the total package. That is exactly what Byrd possesses. At 5’10” 207 lbs he seems like your average free safety, but his power shows on the field that he is more than average. He has the strength to play close to the line of scrimmage in run support, and he led all safeties in forced fumbles last year (8th in any position). He’s an all around great player that you don’t encounter very often.
The Bills can’t afford to let Byrd leave. He was one of a few bright spots on a struggling defense last year. With Pettine taking over as defensive coordinator this year I think if they fill the hole at linebacker this defense can be very good, but if Byrd is allowed to walk there will be another hole to fill and it will be difficult to get this defense to where we all want it to be. If all else fails I don’t doubt that the Bills will use the franchise tag on him this year, but I would much rather have him sign a long term deal and not lose him to the highest bidder in 2014.