10 New Orleans Saints who must make an impact in 2015: No. 8, Jairus Byrd
By Brian Pavek
Some of these players are guys who we need to step up and reach a new plateau, some are players who we simply need to be what they were last year, and some like today’s subject are players who need to be what they once were. The New Orleans Saints made a major splash last year when they signed the biggest free agent on the market. That player is number 8 on my list of ten players who must make an impact.
Number 8: Jairus Byrd
The disappointments last year were varied and plentiful, but perhaps the greatest disappointment of all was that the prize free agent the Saints had defied narrative and ‘salary cap hell’ in order to sign ended up being a dud. It isn’t that the Byrd signing was a bad one, not in my book anyway, but it was an incredible series of unfortunate events that led to a less than spectacular showing from the former pro bowler.
Shortly after putting ink to paper, Byrd had what was a called a ‘minor’ procedure on his back that caused him to miss parts of camp. Those missed days and weeks ended up being crucial, as Byrd was obviously behind in learning Ryan’s (probably excessively) complex scheme. In the games that he did play, there were obvious times where he was out of position or playing ‘slow’ due to having to think about what he was doing instead of reacting. The difference between the two is a few hundredths of a second, and it makes all the difference.
Jairus Byrd is an incredible safety who plays smart, has tremendous instincts, is a good hitter, great ball skills, and an excellent work ethic. That’s the player we thought we were getting, a safety who was on the same level as Seattle’s Earl Thomas who we could pair with our young dynamo Kenny Vaccaro in order to make a dominant secondary of our own. Sadly, that couldn’t have been further from the reality.
Last year’s failures was a convergence of incredible bad luck and also a whole lot of ‘kool-aid’ drinking. The fact is that Jairus Byrd failed to deliver on our expectations for him regardless of extenuating circumstances. There is reason for hope, however. Byrd may not have had the impact that we expected of him last year, but I think the odds are in his favor to have a MUCH more successful second season in Black and Gold.
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First of all, Byrd is healthy going into the offseason program this year, and has been there for the entire install. That is something which I think some of us (myself included) didn’t give enough value to last year. Byrd should be able to react a lot quicker and rely on the instincts that earned him the big contract in the first place. Saints linebacker David Hawthorne was quoted as saying “We got back to the basics of Football. That’s where we’re at during all these OTAs and minicamps”. If that is true it could mean great things for Byrd simply because he will have to think less, and gets to simply react more. Expect a faster and more cohesive defense if that is the case.
“We got back to the basics of Football”-David Hawthorne
Another thing that will likely help Jairus Byrd is that he won’t have to primarily roll coverage over to a single side of the field, as the DC won’t be petrified of what his #2 Corner is going to give up. I have no question that the additions of Brandon Browner, P.J. Williams, and Delvin Breaux will make it far easier for Byrd to do what he does best make plays.
It was a shame last year that Byrd got hurt when he did because I thought he actually had a pretty good game against the Cowboys. Byrd laid some hits in that game which left me rather shocked that the players were able to hold onto the ball through. Right when he seemed to be catching his stride, his season was ended with a knee injury (meniscus tear), and I hope that is just one more thing fueling him to be the player we all hoped he would be in 2015.
If we DO get that player, it could be devastating for opponents. The Jairus Byrd who was a pro bowler in Buffalo is a dynamic play maker who can turn a game at a moments notice. Some Saints fans were comparing his potential impact to what Sharper gave us in 2009, but to be honest Byrd when healthy is a much better player (especially at the respective points in their careers). Byrd not only brings as good, if not better, ball skills, but he is also a better hitter and player against the run than Sharper was.
NFL Spin Zone
The real value that a healthy Byrd brings, and the impact that the team needs him to have is not only as a ‘last line of defense’, but as a playmaker. That is why he got the contract that he did. I’m not going to sit here and say Byrd needs to come out and make 10 interceptions (wouldn’t say no to it though), I will be a little more realistic than that. However, it isn’t unrealistic in any way to expect Byrd to at least cause five turnovers this year. If Jairus Byrd can at minimum provide the Saints with an above average Free Safety (which he is) who can stay in position, and also be a player who can give the ball back to Brees and the offense, then I expect the team’s record to look a whole lot different.
There were simply too many issues with last year’s team to put all the blame on losing Byrd. This season though I expect him to be the player we paid for, and if he is that could be an incredible difference maker for the 2015 Saints. With all of the other solid players around him now Jairus Byrd has an opportunity to make a major impact for the team, and provided he does the Saints defense could actually become a strength…he is that important.