Rumblings Rookie Report: Bills FS Jairus Byrd


New Buffalo Bills FS Jairus Byrd (photo courtesy Scout.com)

The Buffalo Bills, during the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, made a surprising - and in the immediate aftermath, highly controversial - decision when they selected Oregon DB Jairus Byrd with the No. 42 overall pick. Despite the fact that the selection of Byrd came from left field for the Bills' fan base, Byrd filled a team need for a play-making defensive back with legitimately excellent ball skills. Like the pick or not, Byrd - based on his college production and Buffalo's need to create more turnovers defensively - has an excellent shot at becoming an important contributor to the 2009 Buffalo Bills.

Just who is Jairus Byrd, though? What does he bring to the table as a player? How does he fit in with the Bills? Rumblings investigates in the first of a series of posts profiling the Bills' eight draft picks this year.

NFL Bloodlines
Jairus Byrd's father, Gill Byrd, was a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback that played for the San Diego Chargers from 1983 through 1992; his two Pro Bowl appearances came in his final two seasons. Byrd's career was an illustrious one; he intercepted 42 passes and scored two touchdowns during his decade-long career. The 5'11", 195-pound cornerback is considered one of the better defensive backs in the history of the Chargers franchise.

Byrd began his coaching career with the St. Louis Rams in 2003 as a volunteer defensive assistant. That season, current Bears head coach Lovie Smith was in his final season as the Rams' defensive coordinator - and a young coach named Perry Fewell was the secondary coach there. Smith would leave to coach Chicago the next season, and Fewell would join Smith in the windy city in 2005. Fewell spent two seasons working closely with Byrd in St. Louis - and thus was exposed to Jairus while he was still in high school. (On an ironic note, Byrd joined Chicago the same year Fewell joined Dick Jauron's staff as defensive coordinator in Buffalo.)

Now that Fewell is Buffalo's defensive coordinator, the link between this franchise and Jairus Byrd is (loosely) established. But Byrd didn't get drafted because of this link - he got drafted because of his distinguished playing career at Oregon.

Jairus Byrd at Oregon
Before going to Oregon, Byrd was a multi-positional football star at Clayton High School near St. Louis, Missouri. He was a quarterback in high school - and a fine one at that - but he also played RB, WR, DB, and kicked and punted as well. Byrd led Clayton to a Class 4A state title as a senior - a season in which he scored 26 touchdowns from various positions. Yet at just 5'10", Byrd didn't get serious interest - at any position - from Big 12 schools despite his being a local product.

So Byrd went to Oregon, where he sat out the 2005 season as a redshirt. He started the 2006 season on the bench, but thanks to an injury was pressed into a starting CB role for the Ducks' final eleven games. Those were productive games for Byrd; he finished the season with five interceptions and was named the Pac-10 Co-Freshman Player of the Year. He became a full-time starter in 2007 and promptly produced his best season as a collegian, establishing himself as a defensive playmaker (seven interceptions), a big-game performer (two INT, four pass breakups, seven tackles in the Sun Bowl), and a solid threat as a punt returner. In his final season at Oregon in 2008, Byrd was again stellar, capping his illustrious career (as a junior) with five more interceptions and several game-changing plays, including an 87-yard punt return for a score in a comeback victory over Purdue. His college production, as outlined below, speaks for itself.

Oregon CB Jairus Byrd
Year G Tk PBU INT
2005 RS -- -- --
2006 13 56 27 5
2007 13 65 14 7
2008 13 83 14 5
TOT 39 204 36 17

With little more to accomplish as a college cornerback, Byrd left Oregon as a junior for greener pastures in the NFL.  His road through the grueling pre-draft process, however, wasn't as smooth as it could have been.  Head on in past the jump for Byrd's pre-draft results, a scouting report, comments from Buffalo's coaching staff, and an intriguing look into Byrd's personality courtesy of Chicago's Daily Herald.

2009 pre-draft process
Nursing a nagging groin injury, Byrd did not work out at February's Scouting Combine, where he measured in at 5'10" and a thick 207 pounds. His college production aside, Byrd slipped down draft boards a bit due to the fact that he did not work out in front of NFL scouts until April 2 - barely a month prior to the Draft. He was not impressive, either - while he had solid workout numbers in terms of short-area quickness (4.10 short shuttle, 6.75 three-cone drill) and leaping ability (35-inch vertical), his 4.68-second 40 yard dash was viewed as a red flag. Byrd could no longer be considered a fit for every defensive scheme. It would take a team employing a zone-based defensive scheme that valued high production at high-level institutions to take Byrd early in the draft.

Luckily for Byrd, the Bills are one such team.

Jairus Byrd: Player
Scott Wright, one of the most respected talent evaluators not currently employed by an NFL team, had this to say about Byrd as a player (and it's important to note that he evaluated him as a cornerback):

Strengths: Excellent athleticism... Adequate height and good bulk... Large, soft hands... Outstanding ball skills and body control... Fluid hips... Good leaper... Physical and aggressive... Reliable tackler... Does a great job in run support... Gets a good jam... Nice instincts and awareness... Elusive with good vision... Can contribute as a return man... Offers positional versatility... Strong work ethic... Was real productive... NFL bloodlines.
Weaknesses: Below averaged timed speed... Is not real quick and lacks a burst... Will struggle to run with speedy wideouts... Takes too many chances... Not a big hitter... Has trouble getting off blocks... 'Tweener without a true pro position?... Isn't an ideal fit for every scheme... Upside may be limited.
Notes: Was a three-year starter for the Ducks... Father, Gill, was chosen in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers and was selected to two Pro Bowls... Named Pac-10 Co-Freshman Player of the Year in 2006... Honorable Mention All-Pac 10 in 2006 and 2007... 1st Team All-Pac 10 in 2008... Averaged 11.6 yards on 33 punt returns in college... Could also project to safety at the next level... Playmaker and ballhawk in the secondary... Will probably fit in best with a zone team.

Jairus Byrd: Person
Just two days prior to last weekend's draft, the Daily Herald - based in Chicago - wrote an article comparing Byrd and his personality to that of Illinois CB Vontae Davis. Davis, brother of San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis, was considered by many evaluators to be one of the biggest personality risks in the entire draft class, often being described as "arrogant" and "uncoachable." In the article, Byrd is described as "almost the polar opposite" of Davis (who was drafted No. 25 overall by the Miami Dolphins).

Some interesting quotes from the article to note...

Byrd is almost the polar opposite of Davis... According to [Pro Football Weekly's Ned] Nawrocki, Jairus Byrd has a "tremendous work ethic - football is important to him and he takes his craft seriously."
Byrd tried initially to offer up some braggadocio, but he couldn't go through with it when he was asked at the Combine who was better, him or his father.

"Me," he blurted out. "Well, actually, I take that back. He's proven himself. So with all due respect, he's the better player. But I hope to surpass him someday."
He said he talked with his father about leaving school early, but the decision was all his to make.

"He respected me," Byrd said. "I'm a grown-up young man. He was just there to hear what I had to say."

With Byrd, NFL teams know what they're getting. Any team drafting Davis, especially with a mid-first-round pick, will have to hope he matures quickly.

Jairus Byrd: Buffalo Bill
In his news conference discussing the selection of Byrd, Bills secondary coach George Catavolos stated that the Bills would try Byrd out at free safety. Considering the fact that Byrd's weakness - straight-line speed - will be masked by playing deep in zone coverages, that role is ideal for Byrd. It's made even more ideal by the fact that for the past three seasons, Buffalo's safeties have combined for just eight interceptions - none of them coming during the 2008 season. Buffalo needed a playmaker at safety. Even while making a position switch, Byrd is immediately Buffalo's most gifted safety in the ball-hawking department.

We already know that Donte Whitner will man one starting safety position. He just will. The other strong candidate for starting safety consideration is Bryan Scott, a heady veteran that is stellar in run support and has shown an ability to handle prominent tight ends one-on-one. But neither Whitner or Scott are "playmakers", as open to interpretation as that phrase is, and neither possesses top-notch ball skills. Even if Byrd does not start immediately - and even though he'll be learning new techniques, he has an excellent chance to claim a starting role in training camp - he will play a lot simply because the Bills need as much playmaking as they can get.  Buffalo's defense will very likely be better with Jairus Byrd on the field.

Jairus Byrd: Quick Video Hits

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