Kevin Byard

Extension Candidate: Titans S Kevin Byard

Kevin Byard wasn’t supposed to be this good. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, one of the best talent evaluators in football, gave Byard a sixth- to seventh-round grade when he entered the 2016 draft out of Middle Tennessee State. Here’s how one NFC scouting director assessed Byard, per Zierlein.

“Ankle tackler so that’s a concern and I just don’t trust him in coverage. I know he has all the interceptions but I don’t see a player who can match up in space against NFL-­caliber receivers. I know some scouts love him because of his football IQ, but that’s not enough for me.”

The Titans weren’t dissuaded, and used the first pick of the third round (No. 64 overall) on Byard. The 5’11”, 211-pounder became a starter for Tennessee midway through his rookie campaign, and has since proved himself to be one of the best values of that 2016 draft.

Per Pro Football Reference’s approximate value metric, which attempts to encapsulate a player’s production in a single number, Byard has been the 11th-most valuable member of the 2016 draft class. He’s produced 23 points of career AV, tied for second among defenders with 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner and Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack (Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey is first among defensive players).

Byard is now arguably the best player on the Titans’ defense (although perhaps Jurrell Casey would like a word), and of the top-graded safeties in the NFL. He led the league in interceptions (eight) in 2017, and leads the NFL in picks over the past two combined seasons. Pro Football Focus, meanwhile, has graded Byard as a top-eight safety in each of the past two years, noting both his pass coverage and run defense acumen.

Set to turn 26 years old in August, Byard will hit unrestricted free agency next March. So what would an extension between he and the Titans look like? The first factor to examine is the 2020 safety market, which is, in a word, barren. Devin McCourty is scheduled to become a free agent next spring, but the longtime Patriot will be 32 years old at that point. Other free agent safeties, such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Rodney McLeod, D.J. Swearinger, Damarious Randall, and Karl Joseph could struggle to garner significant contracts, based both on their production and the recent history of safety deals.

Byard will likely be the most attractive free agent safety available, but Tennessee does hold some leverage in the form of the franchise tag. Unless Marcus Mariota posts a breakout campaign in 2019, the Titans don’t have any other realistic candidates for the franchise tender. Under the tag, Byard would receive roughly $11.5MM in 2020; if the Titans franchised him again in 2021, he’d pick up another $13.8MM or so. That’s $25MM+ guaranteed over the next two seasons, which should create an absolute floor in negotiations.

Byard and his camp will almost certainly point to Landon Collins‘ six-year, $84MM pact with the Redskins — signed this past March — as a contract comparable, and he’d be right to do so. However, it’s possible that the rest of the NFL will view the Collins deal as an outlier (“that crazy Washington front office!”). Even when adjusting for inflation of the salary cap, Collins’ contract is the sixth-most valuable safety deal of all-time, which doesn’t exactly match his production.

Still, it shouldn’t be a surprise if Byard is able to top $14MM/year, the mark hit by both Collins and Tyrann Mathieu this offseason. He just may not surpass the record $44.5MM in full guarantees that Byard collected from the Redskins. Instead, beating Mathieu’s $26.8MM guarantee and aiming for something in the $30-32MM range seems more feasible for Byard.

2019 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $2MM in 2019. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2019 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:

Bears: RB Jordan Howard, LB Nick Kwiatkoski

Bengals: LB Nick Vigil

Broncos: G Connor McGovern, S Will Parks, S Justin Simmons

Browns: S Derrick Kindred, LB Joe Schobert

Buccaneers: G Caleb Benenoch, DE Carl Nassib, CB Ryan Smith

Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown

Chiefs: CB Kendall Fuller, WR Tyreek Hill, S Eric Murray, WR Demarcus Robinson

Colts: QB Jacoby Brissett, T Joe Haeg

Cowboys: CB Anthony Brown, DT Maliek Collins, QB Dak Prescott

Dolphins: RB Kenyan Drake

Eagles: CB Jalen Mills, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Falcons: LB De’Vondre Campbell, TE Austin Hooper, G Wes Schweitzer

Jaguars: DE Yannick Ngakoue

Jets: LB Jordan Jenkins, CB Rashard Robinson, T Brandon Shell

Lions: C Graham Glasgow

Packers: LB Kyler Fackrell, DE Dean Lowry, LB Blake Martinez, LB Antonio Morrison

Patriots: G Joe Thuney, LB Elandon Roberts

Rams: G Austin Blythe, TE Tyler Higbee

Ravens: DE Matt Judon, OL Alex Lewis, CB Tavon Young

Saints: DT David Onyemata

Steelers: DT Javon Hargrave

Texans: DT D.J. Reader

Titans: S Kevin Byard, WR Tajae Sharpe

OverTheCap.com was essential in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. 

Titans Sign Rookie Kevin Byard

The Titans have, finally, wrapped up their 2016 draft class. Today, the Titans and third-round safety Kevin Byard agreed to terms on a contract, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Kevin Byard (vertical)

Recently, scouting analyst Dave-Te Thomas ran down the Titans’ 2016 draft class for PFR and had positive things to say about Byard, who he believes can make an impact right out of the gate:

Ever since LeBeau became a coordinator, he has surrounded himself with smart, instinctive safeties. Last year, the Titans made a great move by securing the services of former Bills strong safety Da’Norris Searcy. Now, in Byard, they believe they have a ball-hawk free safety to pair with to Searcy’s hard-hitting style. Byard has nineteen interceptions to show for those ball-hawking skills at MTSU, but despite his pedigree and fine performances in practice at the 2016 Senior Bowl, he was not invited to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. The Titans realized what he can offer, as he not only set the school all-time theft mark, but also returned those interceptions for 377 yards and four touchdowns.

Byard’s arrival does not mean he will be the instant starter at free safety, which is where Arizona castoff Rashad Johnson resides. His versatility (he played every secondary position in college) will see him be called upon to play the slot corner spot in passing situations and he could also be utilized as a Cover-2 linebacker vs. the run. All that stands in his way for playing time is a challenge from veteran Marqueston Huff, along with Daimion Stafford and Lamarcus Brutus for the two safety spots on the second unit.”

Here is the complete rundown of the Titans’ 2016 class:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Impact Rookies: Tennessee Titans

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with Dave-Te Thomas’ insight on the Tennessee Titans’ draft class:

First Round – Jack Conklin, OT (Michigan State, No. 8 overall)

It was apparent after last season that the Titans needed to address their lack of depth on defense, but they also had to add speed on offense. Ultimately, Tennessee started the draft by placing a higher priority in protecting their franchise quarterback and opted to build a formidable front line that already featured two first rounders and four starters selected by the team since the 2013 draft phase. Jack Conklin (vertical)

The Titans watched Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil slide down the board, but he wasn’t the tackle that they wanted when they traded up from No. 15 to No. 8. When they owned the first overall pick in the draft, many draft experts expected that Tunsil was a shoe-in, but all along the Titans were eyeing either Conklin or Notre Dame standout Ronnie Stanley.

Being a Top Ten choice does not always spell instant success, at least where offensive tackles are concerned. Among the 179 offensive tackles to ever be drafted in the first round, four never even played in any NFL games and seven others never started any contests during their pro careers. Since the 1970 draft, five other first round offensive tackle selections never reached double-digit starting figures.

Still, Conklin’s future looks bright and his presence is doubly appreciated following Byron Bell‘s season-ending ankle injury. His injury leaves the door open for Conklin to immediately step in as the new starter at right tackle, joining 2013 first round right guard Chance Warmack, 2014 first round left tackle Taylor Lewan, 2015 third round left guard Jeremiah Poutasi, and 2013 fourth round center Brian Schwenke up front.

Second Round – Austin Johnson, DT (Penn State, No. 43 overall)

Dick LeBeau is placing more emphasis on the 3-4 game this season and second round pick Kevin Dodd is currently sidelined with a foot injury, which means that the team could experiment with Jurrell Casey playing on the edge and DaQuan Jones on the opposite side. That would leave Johnson to battle Al Woods for time in the middle of the front wall.

The former journalism major graduated from school early and was eligible to compete at the 2016 Senior Bowl, where he put on quite a performance throughout the week-long practices. Johnson ranked second among interior defensive linemen in the major college ranks and finished third overall on his team with 70 tackles. That was the most tackles for a Penn State defensive lineman since Jimmy Kennedy (87) in 2002. He also recorded 6.5 sacks among his fifteen stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2015.

With his thick-cut frame, Johnson can play either the zero-gap or line up as a traditional under-tackle when the team utilizes the 4-3 scheme. He’s proven last season that he can be very stout at the point of attack and you have to be impressed with his balance and coordination when attacking the rush lanes, along with his great leg drive and core strength to anchor vs. double teams.

Second Round – Derrick Henry, RB (Alabama, No. 45 overall)

DeMarco Murray is a ball-hungry veteran intent on proving that last season’s debacle in Philadelphia was a one-time thing. If Murray looks strong off the bat, it remains to be seen how playing time in the backfield will be divvied up. Murray only had 193 carries (3.6 avg) last season, but he had his best year when he carried the rock for 392 times for Dallas in 2014.

Henry is a one-time starter who needs room to operate and build his acceleration. He will have the benefit of seeing fellow Tide backfield mate, Jalston Fowler, serving as the team’s lead blocker out of the backfield, but he will still have to vie for “scraps” that Murray leaves on the table. Further complicating the touches available for Tennessee players is the fact that Bishop Sankey, David Cobb, Dexter McCluster, Antonio Andrews, and David Fluellen will all be fighting for the two available slots behind Murray on the depth chart, though Sankey could be traded. Only time will tell if Henry can be a successful runner in the NFL and the same goes for his opportunity level in 2016.

Third Round – Kevin Byard, FS (Middle Tennessee State, No. 64 overall)

Kevin Byard (vertical)Ever since LeBeau became a coordinator, he has surrounded himself with smart, instinctive safeties. Last year, the Titans made a great move by securing the services of former Bills strong safety Da’Norris Searcy. Now, in Byard, they believe they have a ball-hawk free safety to pair with to Searcy’s hard-hitting style. Byard has nineteen interceptions to show for those ball-hawking skills at MTSU, but despite his pedigree and fine performances in practice at the 2016 Senior Bowl, he was not invited to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. The Titans realized what he can offer, as he not only set the school all-time theft mark, but also returned those interceptions for 377 yards and four touchdowns.

Byard’s arrival does not mean he will be the instant starter at free safety, which is where Arizona castoff Rashad Johnson resides. His versatility (he played every secondary position in college) will see him be called upon to play the slot corner spot in passing situations and he could also be utilized as a Cover-2 linebacker vs. the run. All that stands in his way for playing time is a challenge from veteran Marqueston Huff, along with Daimion Stafford and Lamarcus Brutus for the two safety spots on the second unit.

Fifth Round – Tajae Sharpe, WR (UMass, No. 140 overall)

To hear Marcus Mariota and the offensive coaches during mini-camp, you’d think that they’d hit the lottery with this fifth round find. Nagging injuries limited the UMass receiver to eleven games last year, but he still pulled in 111 balls, breaking the school season-record. He also holds the career marks with 271 receptions for 3,348 yards. His addition gives Mariota another big, physical possession-type receiver, one with very reliable hands and excellent route-running ability.

Sharpe’s arrival could take playing time away from 2015 second rounder Dorial Green-Beckham, who will now compete with aging veteran Harry Douglas for outside receiver chores. Kendall Wright should line up outside on the right side, and Sharpe expected to challenge Miami castoff Rishard Matthews for the slot receiver role. The team plans on keeping five receivers, putting Douglas and 2013 second round pick Justin Hunter on the bubble. Ben Roberts, Tre McBride, Reece Horn and Andrew Turzilli all appear to be “warm bodies” for training camp at this position.

Fifth Round – Sebastian Tretola, OG (Arkansas, No. 193 overall)

Bell’s loss also gives Tretotala a great opportunity for playing time. Bell was also projected to serve as the top reserve guard, but that role will likely fall to the former Razorback. What Tretola lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with his high level of aggression, especially in the running game. He should easily steal away playing time from fellow Titans reserve blockers, Josue Matias, Andy Gallik, Quinton Spain, and Nick Ritcher. That quartet holds one distinction: none of them were ever drafted. The Titans also signed Ben Jones away from the Texans, but he was mainly brought in to challenge Schwenke for the center spot.

Dave-Te Thomas owns and operates The NFL Draft Report, a service which has provided insight to league scouting departments for over 40 years. All year round, can read Thomas’ in-depth reviews of both blue chip prospects and diamonds in the rough by visiting the NFL Draft Report blog. 

 

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Seven Rookies Remain Unsigned

Updated on June 25th, 2016 3:32pm CT

The overwhelming majority of the rookies in the 2016 draft class have officially signed. However, as we approach July, we still have a small group of stragglers. Seven rookies have yet to put pen to paper with their respective teams and that group includes three first-rounders: Joey Bosa (Chargers, No. 3), Darron Lee (Jets, No. 20) and Joshua Garnett (49ers, No. 28). Joey Bosa (vertical)

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Bosa, of course, stands as the most high-profile player yet to sign his rookie pact and his negotiations are also the most public of the bunch. This week, agent Todd France and team president of football operations John Spanos both discussed the negotiations in radio interviews and it appears that the two sides aren’t even in agreement as to what the disagreement is all about. Spanos says the two sides are hung up on the idea of offset language. France, meanwhile, says there are other reasons behind the protracted talks, including cash flow.

The latest Collective Bargaining Agreement has made rookie contracts much simpler than they used to be. Every rookie from No. 1 through (roughly) No. 256 receives a four-year deal with varying salary amounts based on where they are selected. However, offset language is among the key clauses which may be discussed. If a player with offset language in his contract his released midway through the deal, the original team is only on the hook for the difference in salary between the two contracts. Without offset language, the player can effectively double dip and collect two paychecks. Naturally, there are many player agents who are disinclined to forfeit that potential earning power.

Of the seven players without signed deals, four of those players are third-round picks. That’s because contracts in the third round are, for some reason, far less regulated than the rest of the draft. While third round picks have slotted signing bonuses like everyone else, the base salaries can be brokered and that’s probably at least part of the holdup for these four rookies. However, one pattern to note is that first-rounders Bosa, Lee, Fuller, and Garnett are all represented by powerhouse agency CAA.

Here is the complete list of 2016 rookies who have yet to complete their contracts with signatures and initials:

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

New York Jets

San Diego Chargers

San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Updates: Jack, J. Smith, Reed, Elliott

Linebackers Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith are two of the biggest wild cards in this year’s draft, as both players have the talent to be top-five picks, but the health concerns to take them entirely off some teams’ boards.

Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News (Twitter link) spoke to one source who calls Jack a “time bomb,” suggesting that his knee issues may limit him to just a few good seasons, if that. One source – possibly the same one – also tells Bowen that Smith’s re-check showed a “drop-foot problem, caused by nerve damage,” adding that his prognosis hasn’t improved since the combine.

Not every team will agree with that source’s assessment of Jack and Smith – some teams are said to be encouraged by Jack’s latest medicals – but many other clubs will likely view those prospects the same way, meaning there’s a chance that both players, particularly Smith, could slip a little further than expected on draft day next week.

Here are several more draft updates from around the league:

  • At least three more teams are getting a first-hand look at Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed this week, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who tweets that Reed will visit the Jets on Monday, the Chargers on Tuesday, and the Texans on Wednesday.
  • Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott will have his previously-announced visit with the Bears this Wednesday, tweets Ian Rapoport.
  • The Lions are hosting Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander for a visit today, tweets Rand Getlin of the NFL Network. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes (via Twitter) that Detroit is actively exploring the defensive back market in this year’s draft more than most other teams.
  • Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller, who received positive reports following his medical re-check last week, is visiting the Jets today and will meet with the Panthers on Wednesday, per Rand Getlin (Twitter link).
  • Middle Tennessee State defensive back Kevin Byard, who has already visited seven teams, will visit four more this week. According to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post, Byard is making trips to visit the Ravens, Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Panthers.
  • Boston College linebacker Steven Daniels is visiting Washington this week, and has previously worked out for the Browns and Colts, among other teams, tweets Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net.

Draft Updates: Higbee, Titans, Byard, Reed

One of the top tight end prospects in this year’s draft, Tyler Higbee was charged with second-degree assault, alcohol intoxication in a public place, and second-degree fleeing or evading police on Sunday, Zach Greenwell of the Bowling Green Daily News reports.

The 23-year-old Western Kentucky product was considered a potential Day 2 pick, but these charges will undoubtedly cloud his draft weekend. Higbee caught 48 passes for 563 yards and eight touchdowns last season but missed five games due to a knee injury that he told reporters at his pro day was 75-80% healed.

Here are a few more Monday draft updates:

  • Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa are among the standout prospects visiting the Titans this week, tweets Jason Wolf of the Tennessean. The Titans are believed to like Bosa, but Tunsil remains the odds-on favorite to come off the board first overall if the club keeps its pick.
  • West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has made pre-draft visits to the Eagles and Cardinals, and has private workouts for the Panthers, Lions, and Jaguars, according to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post.
  • After a busy few days last week, Middle Tennessee State defensive back Kevin Byard will be on the move again this week, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who tweets that Byard will be visiting the Cardinals today and the Rams tomorrow, followed by the Saints and Bengals.
  • In addition to making previously-reported visits to the Panthers, Lions, and Saints this week, Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed will also make trips to meet with the Bills and Bears, tweets Rapoport.
  • UCLA wide receiver and return man Devin Fuller has several visits and workouts left on his schedule, tweets Rand Getlin of the NFL Network. Per Getlin, the Dolphins, Packers, and Chargers are among the teams that will get a close look at Fuller.

Sam Robinson contributed to this post.

Draft Rumors: Stanley, Nkemdiche, Cowboys, Bills, Bucs, Bills

Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame is considered by most as a top 10 lock, but not all teams agree, Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net writes (for PhiladelphiaEagles.com). Some scouts are worried about the left tackle’s athleticism and others just see him as flat out overrated, and that’s causing his stock to drop. It’s possible then that Stanley will go from the top 10 to somewhere in the middle of the first round.

Here are the latest draft rumors from around the NFL:

  • Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche will meet with the Jaguars on Wednesday and the Ravens on Thursday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Nkemdiche met with Arizona on Monday and will check in with Oakland today.
  • Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is visiting the Bills, Buccaneers, and Cowboys this week, as Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports tweets. Garafolo wonders if Dallas might be considering a trade back from No. 4 to take Rankins.
  • Indiana left tackle Jason Spriggs is gaining momentum and “several personnel people believe he’s a lock to be selected in the bottom third of round one,” Pauline writes.
  • Rees Odhiambo will take visits with the Buccaneers, Seahawks, and Dolphins and has a workout with the Saints, per Rapoport (on Twitter).
  • Former Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock has worked out for Patriots, Lions, Ravens and Vikings, as Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com writes. He’s also scheduled to meet with the Dolphins this week.
  • Middle Tennessee State defensive back Kevin Byard will work out for the Panthers on Tuesday, visit the Falcons on Wednesday, visit the Chiefs on Thursday, and visit the Packers on Friday, as Wilson tweets.
  • Texas-El Paso defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris will visit the Raiders and Chiefs and work out for the Bears and Vikings, Wilson tweets.
  • Southern Mississippi offensive lineman Norman Price is generating some buzz as of late, Pauline writes.
  • Western Kentucky cornerback Prince Charles Iworah is vaulting up draft boards and could land in the fourth round, Pauline writes.