Tennessee Titans: Kevin Byard – Sleeper Defensive Player of the Year candidate

The Tennessee Titans have a budding superstar in safety Kevin Byard, who has already earned Pro Bowl and All Pro honors in his first three seasons. Next up is the Defensive Player of the Year award, and Byard should be in the mix by season’s end.

Pass rushers Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt have maintained a stranglehold on the honor recently, winning the award in five of the last seven seasons. And while Donald is the reigning two-time winner, Byard has been putting together an impressive resume of his own.

In fact, one could argue that Byard should have won it in 2017.

He led the league in turnovers forced, recovering 2 fumbles and picking off 8 passes. The last one clinched Tennessee’s first playoff appearance in a nearly a decade.

Byard also chipped in 87 tackles (60 solo), and 16 pass deflections. He was everywhere in that 2017 All Pro campaign.

By contrast, Troy Polamalu (PIT) was the last safety to win DPOY in 2010. His stat line that season: 63 tackles (49 solo), 11 pass deflections, 7 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 td.

Very comparable.

In 2018 Byard tacked on four more interceptions to lead the team….in addition to 90 tackles, 8 pass deflections, 2 sacks, and a 65 yard touchdown pass on a fourth down punt fake.

He can literally do it all.

No I in TEAM….or DPOY

It will take a team effort in order to reach such a lofty individual goal, and Byard has the surrounding pieces to help him.

Tennessee has one of the most talented, veteran-laden secondaries in all of football. With Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Adoree’ Jackson at corner and Kenny Vaccaro at safety, the Titans return their entire unit from 2018.

A unit that was the third toughest to score on.

It’s hard to imagine Cameron Wake and Harold Landry generating less pressure at outside linebacker than the retired duo of Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo did last season.

A better pass rush will vastly improve an already formidable secondary, and Byard’s ability to roam should once again put him in situations to make game-changing plays.

Opportunity

You can project a busy season for Byard just by looking at Tennessee’s schedule. It is littered with gunslingers.

Baker Mayfield, Andrew Luck (twice), Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees. Byard should have plenty of opportunities to be in the right place at the right time.

A second year in defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ system. Cohesiveness within the secondary. Better pass pressure and scoring offense. Opportunity.

The perfect storm.

Don’t be surprised to see Byard’s name in the Defensive Player of the Year discussions if the Titans are relevant in December and he continues on this trajectory.

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