Damiere Byrd Is In Tough Spot As Patriots’ No. 1 Wide Receiver

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Damiere Byrd has been, all things considered, a pleasant surprise for the New England Patriots this season.

He’s also probably the worst No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. Both things can be true.

Byrd leads Patriots wideouts in snaps with 312. He’s been on the field for 92.6 percent of Patriots offensive plays. N’Keal Harry is next in line with 266 snaps and 78.9 percent of plays. Julian Edelman is third with 234 snaps and 69.4 percent of plays.

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Only three NFL wide receivers have played a higher percentage of their team’s offensive snaps: Seattle Seahawks wideouts D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and Washington Football Team receiver Terry McLaurin. Only an additional five wide receivers have played 90 percent of their team’s offensive snaps: the Minnesota Vikings’ Adam Thielen, the New York Giants’ Darius Slayton, the Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins, the Buffalo Bills’ Stefon Diggs and the Los Angeles Rams’ Robert Woods.

Here are their yards per route run, per PFF:

Hopkins: 2.76Metcalf: 2.58Diggs: 2.48Thielen: 2.22McLaurin: 2.02Slayton: 1.87Lockett: 1.74Woods: 1.74Byrd: 1.27

And their defense-adjusted yards above replacement, or DYAR, rank, per Football Outsiders:

Diggs: 3rdThielen: 4thHopkins: 6thLockett: 10thMetcalf: 11thMcLaurin: 32ndSlayton: 35thWoods: 56thByrd: 61st

The only receivers who lead their teams’ position group in offensive snaps with fewer yards per route run than Byrd are the Philadelphia Eagles’ Greg Ward, the Indianapolis Colts’ Zach Pascal, the Detroit Lions’ Marvin Jones and the New York Jets’ Chris Hogan.

And they only lead their position groups in snaps because of injuries to Desean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Kenny Golladay, Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder. They are not their teams’ intentioned No. 1 wideouts. Edelman and Harry have played every game. Byrd is still far and away the No. 1 guy.

So, Byrd has become something of a punchline to make a point. I’m as guilty of it as anyone.

I don't really understand the hesitance to admit that "wEaPoNz" are a problem.The Patriots' top wide receiver is Damiere Byrd, and their starting tight end is Ryan Izzo.In what world is that enough? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. https://t.co/MhdaGMC07J— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) October 19, 2020

The adamance to defend a skill-position group that has Damiere Byrd and Ryan Izzo leading it in snaps is a pretty clear case of not being able to see the forest for the trees.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) October 21, 2020

Byrd, who was no guarantee to even make the Patriots’ roster when he signed as a free agent in March, has been a useful player, though. He’s definitely an upgrade over Phillip Dorsett, and he’d be a solid-to-good No. 3 receiver in the Patriots’ offense. It is in no way his fault that he’s better than Harry and Edelman and, by default, the Patriots’ best wide receiver.

“Damiere’s a smart kid that has good route-running ability and has done a good job picking up our offense,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “He’s been productive.”

Byrd is thrilled that he’s a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL.

“I think that’s what you work for throughout camp, OTAs if we would have had one, offseason, to put yourself in position to be that,” Byrd said Wednesday. “It’s a long season to go, so I have to still continue to show that I can do that and we all know that in any NFL things can change in a week’s time. So I’m still working as hard as I can to continue to get better, continue to jell within this offense and as long as the coaches trust me, I’m going to go out there and do the best I can and continue to try to earn their trust.”

Byrd has 17 catches for 217 yards in five games. He’s on pace for a career high in catches and yards since his best season came in 2019 when he had just 32 receptions for 359 yards with a touchdown. He’s never been more than a fringe-No. 3 receiver nor played more than 43.4 percent of offensive snaps. Just two years ago, he caught one pass for 8 yards in eight games with the Carolina Panthers.

Byrd signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. He literally didn’t sign up for the culpability that comes with being a No. 1 wide receiver.

But because of Harry’s lack of progress and Edelman’s age, Byrd has become that guy this season. Byrd, by way of the Patriots, will be mocked because of the position New England put him in. If he could take his rightful place as the team’s No. 3 option at wide receiver, the Patriots would be in a solid position. But he’s the No. 1 guy. And that’s a pretty major problem.
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