ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 09: Jairus Byrd #31 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates recovering a fumble in the third quarter against th Philadelphia Eagles at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo won 31-24. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
"... the most important pending unrestricted free agent for the 2013 market to the Bills will be safety Jairus Byrd. If you've heard me throughout the past season and beyond, I believe Byrd has transformed himself in to a complete NFL safety. His nine interceptions in 2009 was certainly impressive. However, it's his instincts, recognition, tackling and the playmaking ability that showed through as a complete package in 2011. He was the best defensive player for the Bills throughout last season." - Joe Buscaglia in May 2012
Every year here at Buffalo Rumblings, we run a summer series in which we talk about the ten most important Buffalo Bills players entering a given season. Where in past seasons we've focused the series on guys that needed to perform if the team was going to succeed, this year's focus will just be on the team's ten players most likely to directly influence the team's successes or failures in 2012.
Next up on the list: free safety Jairus Byrd, a player that belongs in more daily discussions about our favorite team.
WGR 550's Buscaglia is right: Byrd is the most important impending unrestricted free agent that the Bills will need to try to re-sign prior to next off-season. But this list is about the 2012 season, so forget about that for a few minutes.
To a certain extent, we can also forget about Byrd as a player. We know what he is (a very good free safety), and we know the metamorphosis he's undergone between his flash-in-the-pan rookie season, his sophomore slump and his emergence in year three as a top-level starting safety with a well-rounded game. It's easy to gloss over just how good Byrd is based on the fact that we still sort of wish he was picking off nine passes a year; that's unfortunate, and unfair. Byrd is excellent. But again, there's a bigger point to make here.
We live in a football world in which the likes of Stevie Johnson can routinely torch the likes of Darrelle Revis. The league is tailored for offenses to excel. This is a fact that Buddy Nix and the Bills are well aware of. It's why they target world-class athletes on defense, and why they think they can get away with scrap-heap types at wide receiver. That's just how pro football works these days.
Earlier this off-season, Nix said that it's harder to play defense than offense - and he's absolutely right. The best defenses in today's NFL aren't shut-down units; they're good defenses with great players that make up for the big plays they give up with big plays and consistent play of their own. The best defenses feature a dominant pass rush and guys in the back seven that can capitalize on the mistakes that the pass rush creates.
Buffalo spent its off-season trying to fix its pass rush, as you're all well aware. Assuming that comes to fruition, the team will need a couple of elite-level back seven defenders to emerge as stars, and make plenty of big plays. I see Byrd as that player. He's improved his game tremendously, but he's sacrificed big-play numbers (to an extent) after his rookie season. That should no longer be the case in 2012. If the pass rush is fixed and footballs start spraying across the field with increasing irregularity, Byrd should return to Pro Bowl form.