From his famous father, he got great bloodlines, hands that allow him to turn the mistakes of quarterbacks into interceptions, and a lightning-quick burst to the ball when it is in the air. But from Gill Byrd, a 10-year cornerback with two Pro Bowl appearances, Buffalo Bills rookie safety Jairus Byrd also got tremendous football awareness.
That last quality might be most important. He's managed to make an almost seamless switch from college cornerback to NFL safety, and his showing so far makes Jairus Byrd a favorite for defensive rookie of the year honors.
"People talk all the time about making plays, but you've got to be there to make them," said the elder Byrd, now an assistant coach with the Chicago Bears. "A lot of the game is being in the right place. And, really, a lot of being in the right place is just [having] a good feel for the game."
The younger Byrd is tied with New Orleans safety Darren Sharper for the league lead in interceptions with seven. At one point he had three straight games with multiple interceptions, a feat that hadn't been accomplished since 1960. He's accomplished this despite being slowed by a groin injury, which he insists will not keep him off the field this weekend as the Bills visit the Tennessee Titans.
At the University of Oregon, Byrd was a virtual takeaway machine, with 17 career interceptions. Although Gill Byrd believed his son could play cornerback at the NFL level, scouts projected Jairus Byrd as a safety. The Oregon star lacks top-end speed, though he compensates with football aptitude.
Safety generally is considered a more difficult position to play than cornerback, especially for young players entering the league. Few scouts had many doubts that Byrd could play safety as a pro. The Bills, who drafted Byrd in the second round, announced almost immediately that he would be a safety.
And they were right.
"He's still riding the learning curve, but he's a bright kid, and nobody questions that he can handle [the safety position]," said Buffalo secondary coach George Catavolos. "In this league, you don't get to the right place at the right time just by [happenstance]. You've got to be intuitive, and he is."