Tennessee Titans Safety Kevin Byard is a Budding NFL Star

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 24: Safety Kevin Byard
NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 24: Safety Kevin Byard /

Tennessee Titans 2nd-year safety Kevin Byard is beginning to flourish.

Effort. Attitude. Toughness. Turnovers.

Those four words, abbreviated by the acronym E.A.T.T., are used by Middle Tennessee State University defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix and his staff to describe the identity they desire for their players to have.

It is very similar to the mentality Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson likes for his players. From the day that he was hired as GM, Robinson has preached an identity of players who are coachable, tough, and have a team-first attitude.

Among the first players acquired by Robinson who fit that mold was safety Kevin Byard, a product of Coach Nix’s MTSU defense. After being snubbed of an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, despite his impressive collegiate production, Byard had a large chip on his shoulder.

Though Byard intercepted a whopping 19 passes during his four years playing college ball, draft analysts and scouts worried about how his college playing speed would translate to the NFL. They also worried that Byard would be an inept tackler at the professional level, despite the fact that he averaged 79.5 tackles per season at MTSU.

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As a result of the skepticism, Byard fell to the third round. Deemed a situational ballhawk, the Titans hoped he would become a key piece in transforming their mostly talentless defense. His impact was immediately felt, as he recorded an interception in his first career preseason game.

It would be a while, however, before Byard recorded his first regular season interception. Because the Titans lacked another sure-tackling safety, Byard spent most of his rookie campaign playing in the box as a strong safety.

Byard excelled in this position, recording 40 tackles in limited playing time and showing to be a quality tackler after all. He also became a force on blitzes, earning one sack and multiple pressures.

When the Titans signed free agent Johnathan Cyprien, one of the NFL’s best run-stopping safeties, it was expected that Byard would return to a center field role. However, an injury to Cyprien that has kept him out of the Titans’ last six games has forced the Titans to continue moving Byard all around the field.

If anything, this situation has benefitted him. Byard notched his first career interception against Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans while continuing to be one of the Titans’ best players against the run.

Against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Byard took his game to another level. In addition to recording four total tackles, one for a loss, he intercepted Browns quarterbacks three times. Twice he victimized DeShone Kizer, and once Cody Kessler.

Close observers have been expecting Byard to break out for a while now, but nobody could have expected it to come with three interceptions in one game. Still, a dominating performance like this from Byard was inevitable. It was the culmination of all of his abilities in one game.

When I spoke to Coach Nix, Byard’s college defensive coordinator, shortly after the 2016 NFL Draft, he predicted immense success for the young safety.

“I think it will only be a matter of time, and he will continue to showcase his many talents. Kevin’s skill set allows him the opportunity to play both middle field safety or strong safety and to do them extremely well. I know without a doubt Kevin will E.A.T.T. and bring accountability.”

Titans LB Avery Williamson once told me that the two keys to Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme are an effective pass rush and defensive backs who make plays on the ball. With a struggling pass rush that continued to be ineffective against Cleveland, Byard’s breakout performance was a godsend.

Though he may never have three interceptions in one game again, there is no reason to doubt that Byard will be able to build off of his success. Byard has a rare skill set that gives him the opportunity to be a star in the NFL for a really long time. He’s well on his way to being just that.