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Opponent Film Room: Kevin Byard is a Star Safety

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Byard is one of the best safeties in the NFL

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts face off with division rivals Tennessee Titans this Sunday. The Titans have a roster full of talented players from running back Derrick Henry to left tackle Taylor Lewan to defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. These players are all great but the best player on their entire roster is safety Kevin Byard.

A former third round pick out of Middle Tennessee State, Byard has put together a great NFL career up until this point. In 49 career games, he has tallied 237 tackles, 29 pass deflections, 13 interceptions, and 3 sacks. He is an absolute ball hawk on the back end that opposing quarterbacks and play callers have to always be aware of.

In today’s opposing film room, we will be looking at the play of Byard from last week against the Cleveland Browns and against the Colts last season in 2018. We will also be looking at one key area where the Colts can look to exploit him this Sunday.


Positives

Byard is not afraid to mix it up in the box around the line of scrimmage. According to Pro Football Focus, he rated as the second best run defending safety in the NFL last season. He had 62 tackles on the season as well as 17 run stops while only missing six total tackles. He finished with an overall run defending grade of 89 out of 100 which is an elite grade. Here he steps up into the box and tracks the ball carrier to the outside with ease before making the tackle by the sideline.


The story is the same when he is coming downhill from his high safety position. Here against the Colts last season, he shows his ability to come downhill quickly and make the tackle for a short gain. Byard is physical safety who is always willing to mix it up in the run game. He never shies away from contact and could be a factor on Sunday in limiting Marlon Mack in the run game. His willingness and speed in run defense and on underneath passes are a major aspect of his game.


While he is a very god run defender, he makes his biggest impact in the passing game. He is one of the best deep safeties in the league as he has made a living off of reading and baiting opposing quarterbacks. Last season he had four interceptions in deep coverage as well as another interception in the season opener against the Browns. He also graded as PFF’s 12th best coverage safety in the NFL last season as he scored a very good grade of 80.2. Here he recognizes the post route in front of him and breaks on the ball as Baker Mayfield releases it. He does a great job of contacting the tight end as the ball arrives and knocking the ball free to force the incomplete pass.


He shows off his innate ability to bait quarterbacks on this interception in week one. His responsibility is to cover the flat here in the cover three look. He initially moves to his spot but watches the eyes of Mayfield while doing so. He begins to drift back in his zone just slightly so he doesn’t tip off the QB that he is anticipating the in route. As soon as the ball leaves Mayfield’s hands, Byard is able to break on the pass and get the interception. Jacoby Brissett is going to have to be very careful on Sunday and not telegraph his throws near Byard’s zones.


Where to attack him on defense

So if Byard is one of the better run defending safeties in football and is a ball hawk in zone coverage, where do you attack him? The biggest area to exploit in his game is in man coverage. He is still fairly solid but there is a noticeable drop off in play when he is in man vs in zone. He is an athletic safety with good eyes but he does struggle to fight threw the bigger tight ends in the league. That along with his tendency to always look into the backfield to make a big play which can sometimes lead to openings in his coverage, leads to a match up the Colts can potentially exploit.

Look at this first clip last year from the Colts vs Titans game. Eric Ebron is quoted with telling Andrew Luck to throw him the ball if he sees 31 (Byard) on him in the red zone. Luck does this in that exact situation and the Colts get the score. Byard doesn’t do anything wrong here necessarily but he is unable to get through the bigger frame of Ebron and make a play on the ball. He struggles with tight ends who box him out, especially when he is left on an island with them.

Fast forward to this season and the Browns look to take advantage of the same match up in the red zone with their athletic tight end. Byard is playing off coverage, for some reason, which allows David Njoku to get the inside position. Once he establishes this position, Byard is helpless to the box out from the tight end as the Browns are able to find the end zone. Byard is a great safety in this league but he is beatable. If the Colts make an emphasis top force man coverage situations and isolate him on one of their bog athletic tight ends (Eric Ebron or Mo Alie-Cox), then that is a match up they can exploit.


Final Thoughts

Kevin Byard has certainly outplayed his draft slot and is well deserving of his huge contract the Titans signed him to this offseason. He is an excellent run defender and a game changing ball hawk on the backend with very little flaws in his overall game.

If there is one way to exploit him in coverage though, it is utilizing big tight ends when he is in man coverage on them. He struggles to get inside position way too often and gets boxed out on many in breaking routes when lined up on tight ends. It isn’t a major flaw in his game but it is one the Colts can exploit on Sunday. Look for the Colts to be targeting Mo Alie-Cox and Eric Ebron on in breaking routes in this game if they see Byard lined up in man coverage with them this weekend.