Free Byrd: Why Damiere Byrd is New England’s Best Kept Secret

By Alex Kurpeski

It’s safe to say that the Patriots’ offense is…flawed. There’s a clear lack of depth in the receiving core, with no tight end to speak of (sorry Ryan Izzo). It’s no wonder why Cam Newton has thrown only four touchdown passes this season. 

Despite the struggles faced by this unit as a whole, three players have stood out to me all season long. The first two (Jakobi Meyers and Damien Harris) are rather obvious, as both have broken out in the second half of this season, looking like legitimate building blocks for the future. However, this article is not about those guys. Instead, it’s dedicated to veteran Damiere Byrd, who has been a model of consistency all season long. 

Byrd’s line of 35 catches, 502 receiving yards, and one touchdown is not the most impressive. But it’s no fault of his own, either. Byrd’s 97.1% snap share is the third-highest mark among qualified wide receivers. However, his 19.3% target share is the lowest among receivers with at least 90% of their team’s snaps.

With an average of 64.2 air yards-per-game, the Patriots passing game simply has yet to allow Byrd to do the two things he does best consistently: run deep routes and pick up yards after the catch on slant routes. With an average target distance of 11.7 yards, Byrd has been used too rigidly as a boundary receiver in this offense. Though he leads the team in targets (55) and total air yards (642), Byrd sits as the WR56 in PPR. 

A tremendous athlete who excelled as a member of the South Carolina football team in college, Byrd’s metrics are some of the best in the NFL. Per PlayerProfiler, Byrd’s burst score, catch radius, 40 yard dash time, and agility score all grade out in the 91st percentile or harder. To put that into plain English: he’s an elite athlete — like elite, elite.  The only complaint one could have regarding Byrd is his size, as his 5’9, 170 lb frame isn’t exactly what NFL teams desire in a non-slot receiver. 

Getting open hasn’t been an issue for Byrd, who ranks 15th in the league with an average of 1.96 yards of separation on his targets. He’s dropped only 1.8% of his passes this season. So what the heck is holding Byrd back?

Though I hate to undermine my colleague Matt, I think the issue is Cam Newton. Byrd’s target accuracy rate ranks 61st in the NFL, while Newton ranks in the bottom three among qualified QBs in air yards-per-game (102.2) while carrying the second-worst touchdown rate among that same group (1.5%). Is it Newton’s fault that the Patriots can’t move the ball downfield despite having a hidden gem like Byrd in the lineup on almost every play? That’s not my place to say. But is he helping elevate the team with his play? No, not at all. 

In conclusion, free my man Damiere Byrd!

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