Ultimately, it isn’t going to matter.
Whatever team drafts a prospect is going assume the role of that player’s favorite team. Throw allegiances out the window. Grew up a Browns’ fan, now drafted by the Steelers? Here We Go! Someone pass the pierogies.
But for Kevin Byard, should the Pittsburgh Steelers take him in this year’s draft, he won’t have to pay any mind to that. He’ll be drafted by the team he’s loved the most.
He’s 5’11, 216 pounds and will hit you in the mouth with everything he’s got. Because of that style, fairly or unfairly, tabbed as an in-the-box strong safety. But early in his high school career, he wasn’t the guy trying to separate player from ball. He was the one trying to catch it.
“I actually started off playing quarterback. I actually moved to receiver and played safety at the same time,” Byard tells me in an interview at the Senior Bowl.
He’s well-spoken, articulate, who brings energy to the conversation in this stuffy media room, reporters and players confined between three long dinner tables. Byard says he was supposed to go to Kentucky to be a receiver, but it fell through and he wound up committing to Middle Tennessee State to play strong safety. That time spent on offense helped develop him in the secondary, bringing a greater understanding to the concepts and how an offense thinks.
“I think being able to play offense first in high school and just learning different concepts on offense helped me at safety. Knowing different combinations. It’s definitely good for me.”
Be it that peek behind the veil, natural ball skills, or a little bit of luck, Byard terrorized quarterbacks through four starting seasons. He finished his Blue Raider career with 19 interceptions, leading his team every single year and finishing first all-time in school history.
That playmking carried over into his week in Mobile, high-pointing and snagging a Jacoby Brissett throw deep down the right sideline during a Wednesday practice. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive coaches exploded in joy and teammates hooted and hollered his way.
Energy seen like that surrounds Byard, usually the catalyst for it, who brings intensity to each game, especially when the stakes are high. They certainly were when he traveled to face Alabama in 2015.
“I think bigger the game, the better you have to rise your level of intensity. Definitely competition always makes me play better. That was definitely a fun game that I had. That’s the player you’re going to see everyday on Sundays.”
Though Middle Tennessee fell 37-10, Byard hauled in another patented interception, skying high near his own goal line and coming down with a contested throw.
It’s that playmaking ability that makes Byard dismiss the notion he can only play in the box. See ball? Get ball? That’s his mindset.
“The ball is in the air and I gotta go get it.”
That versatility carries over into the scheme his Blue Raiders’ defense drew up.
“We pretty much did everything. We did single high, Cover 2, Cover 3. I feel like I can fit every scheme.”
A style like that would fit in nicely in Pittsburgh, with a void at strong safety. He plays like a Steeler and that shouldn’t come as any surprise. After all, it was Pittsburgh’s defense that inspired him growing up.
“Growing up, the Steelers were my favorite team. Growing up watching Troy Polamalu and those guys. I felt like they pretty much had the best defense in the league for a long time. Especially watching the effort he gave out on the field every day. It’s definitely somebody I watched on film and tried to emulate in my time in college and trying to do it right now.”
They may not share the long, flowing locks Polamalu donned, but the playmaking? Byard certainly did his best impersonation. He’d love to play for Mike Tomlin. Be apart of a defense that would make the 70s dynasty proud.
“I mean, it’d be a blessing to play with that defense. Especially with their history. The great players that came out of the Steel Curtain. That’d be a great thing. Especially playing for Mike Tomlin. He’s a great coach.”
In the meantime, he says he’s training at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas. Currently without a Combine invite, and if one doesn’t come, he’ll be one of Indianapolis’ biggest snubs. His hope is to run in the high 4.4’s, helping to eliminate a lack of speed as one of the main negatives against him.
But Steelers’ safeties don’t need to be flashy. Just functional. Byard brings both. From his fandom to the field, he’s a quintessential Steelers’ selection.