After an outstanding rookie season in which he earned a Pro Bowl berth, Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd endured a 2010 season in which he was picked apart by Bills fans with high expectations. Though his stock has come back down to earth since intercepting nine passes as a rookie, we felt the need to point out something that isn't discussed often enough: Byrd is still an excellent playmaker, despite only recording one pick last season.
Well over two years ago, we took a cumulative look at the playmaking production of safeties drafted in the first round with the idea of proving that Donte Whitner wasn't producing the way a Top 10 pick should. That article probably did more harm than good insofar as how Whitner is perceived in Buffalo, but the point holds today - and it can be effectively used to demonstrate how productive Byrd has been, as well.
After the jump, we'll review what constitutes "big play production" and show how Byrd stacks up against safeties drafted in the first round since 1999. The short answer: he stacks up extremely well.
In short, when we decided to talk about Whitner's lack of big-play production, we took the simplistic approach of piling together interceptions, sacks, forced and recovered fumbles, defensive scores, safeties and passes defended into one lump sum. The data comes only from each player's first three years in the league - which we used back then after Whitner's third year, and which we don't have time to pare down to two years for Byrd's purposes. So please note that where data for a safety doesn't include three years, we've noted it with an asterisk (you'll find four such players).
This isn't scientific in any way, shape or form, and it's not indicative of overall performance as a safety. All it does is give us a strong idea of how involved each safety is (or was) in the playmaking department.
|Playmaking Production of Round 1 Safeties, Years 1-3: 1999-2010|
|Ed Reed (47/48)||234||4||21||4||4||3||44||0||80|
|Troy Polamalu (32/48)||227||6||7||3||2||2||37||0||57|
|Sean Taylor (44/46)||264||2||7||7||1||1||34||0||52|
|Roy Williams (48/48)||267||4||9||6||4||2||27||0||52|
|Michael Griffin (41/48)||206||2||11||4||3||1||25||0||46|
|Brandon Meriweather (27/48)||195||2||9||4||0||1||21||0||37|
|LaRon Landry (47/47)||250||3||3||4||3||0||24||0||37|
|Adam Archuleta (41/42)||251||9.5||2||2||3||1||15||0||32.5|
|Jairus Byrd* (25/30)||134||1||10||3||2||1||13||0||30|
|Reggie Nelson (42/45)||187||1||7||1||0||0||20||0||29|
|Derrick Gibson (25/47)||144||1||3||1||1||0||17||0||23|
|Michael Huff (32/44)||187||1||1||1||1||0||17||1||22|
|Kenny Phillips (20/34)||157||0||4||0||3||0||12||0||19|
|Eric Berry** (16/16)||92||2||4||1||0||1||9||0||17|
|Jason Allen (22/45)||104||0||5||1||1||0||9||0||16|
|Rashard Anderson* (9/27)||159||0||1||1||3||1||9||0||15|
|Earl Thomas** (16/16)||75||0||5||1||0||0||7||0||13|
|Donte Whitner (42/43)||255||1||2||2||0||0||7||0||12|
|Antuan Edwards (4/31)||57||0||6||0||1||1||1||0||9|
Again, just to re-iterate: Byrd was not a first-round pick, like every other name on this list, and he also only has two years of experience, whereas every name in front of him (and every name without an asterisk) has three.
Nine of Byrd's 30 "big plays" occurred in 2010, in what was obviously a down year for the freshman phenom. Even if he doesn't improve at all, the same season would push him up above all but five names on this list - and all five of those guys are (or were) outstanding safeties. It's possible that an improvement out of Byrd in the playmaking department could vault him into the Top 5.
The bottom line is this: we know what Byrd isn't and won't be (i.e. an elite run defender, or a player with elite speed). He does, however, remain a very good playmaker. That needs to be discussed more often.