Damiere Byrd signed with the New England Patriots on a one-year deal that created little fanfare but could make life significantly easier for their next quarterback. Byrd has had a low-key NFL career since entering the league as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Panthers in 2015. This was evident by his 2019 receiving yardage total of 359, representing the highest of his career.
His lone campaign with the Arizona Cardinals won’t have moved the needle among many observers. However, his production was essential to the success of the Cardinals offense, as Byrd was the highest-rated free agent wide receiver by Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM).
OSM uses the NFL’s NextGen Stats and a series of algorithms to assess a player’s impact on his offense by looking at the factors only he could control.
Byrd finished 2019 as the 11th of 93 qualifiers, with a grade of 36.3, indicating a ‘very good’ level of performance.
His yardage may have been modest but OSM indicates that no Cardinals receiver had a greater influence on Arizona’s offense than Byrd. He demonstrated a well-rounded skill set that attracted the attention of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Byrd ran the 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds ahead of the 2015 Draft and still has the elite speed to excel as a downfield weapon. He displayed that speed against the Atlanta Falcons, getting over the top against Isaiah Oliver and adjusting to a slightly underthrown ball for a 58-yard gain.
His ability to accelerate paid dividends the Cardinals’ Week 15 victory over the Browns. Byrd displayed contact balance to bounce off two defenders and burst clear, taking a short catch 51 yards.
Byrd uses the threat of his speed astutely to aid his route-running, which has the refinement of a player with his five seasons of experience in the league. In the third quarter of the Browns game, Byrd gained significant separation on a 17-yard catch in large part because of the fear of his downfield ability.
Faced with off coverage from Greedy Williams, Byrd quickly ate up the cushion and effectively sold the post route before breaking back to the outside for an easy reception.
The same change-of-direction skills that allowed Byrd to put such space between him and Williams were on display in Arizona’s Week 2 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. Byrd’s impression against Baltimore was not as spectacular, but this six-yard reception provided early-season evidence that he can fool defenders with his quickness.
What may have most appealed to Belichick, however, is that even in his relatively limited playing time, Byrd displayed the ability to defeat press coverage. He did so against Baltimore on a 13-yard reception that saw him make another excellent adjustment to the football to make a tough catch near the sideline.
An Edelman replacement?
The need for another reliable weapon at receiver for New England is evident following the respective struggles of N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers as rookies in 2019.
Julian Edelman is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he posted the highest receiving yardage total of his career with 1,117.
However, it would be foolish of the Patriots to assume that Edelman – who will be 34 when the 2020 season starts – will enjoy the same rapport with the new quarterback as he did with Tom Brady. Given his checkered injury history, there is no guarantee of Edelman staying on the field for a full season, either.
Nothing is promised in terms of Byrd’s potential impact for the Patriots, but how he seamlessly slotted into the Cardinals’ offense after he spent his three previous seasons in Carolina provides encouragement.
Byrd has proven he can win in the short and intermediate areas against tight coverage and get open on deep shots. He can both a safety net and a speedster whom quarterbacks turn to for an explosive play.
He is an effective insurance policy against further Edelman durability issues and, at 27, has the skill set to blossom into his replacement as New England’s top wideout.
It remains to be seen whether it will be Jarrett Stidham, an outside veteran, or a rookie draft pick under center for the Patriots in 2020. Assuming the mantle from Brady is the most unenviable task in sports but, providing he adapts to life in New England as he did in Arizona, Byrd can take some of the strain off the heir to number 12’s throne