By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Damiere Byrd did the best he could in a major role. As one of the Patriots’ rare recent receiver successes, Byrd should be a candidate to come back in 2021 – just not as one of their top-2 pass-catchers.
With the Patriots or any other team, Byrd is ultimately best suited in a complementary role as the third or fourth option in the passing game. He proved in 2020, even in the Patriots’ sluggish offense under Cam Newton, that he can execute simple-but-effective plays and occasionally pop for a big game or a long touchdown. He also proved that he has enough flaws that he can’t consistently produce like a top-2 receiver on a winning NFL offense.
Based on workload, Byrd was easily the Patriots’ most trusted, prolific receiver. He played 901 snaps (89.1 percent), eclipsing Jakobi Meyers’ 655. Meyers didn’t start early in the season before taking over as the clear No. 1 option, but Byrd remained the clear No. 2 after that point. Still, Byrd could only muster 77 targets, which is about one every 12 snaps.
The best way for the Patriots to get any kind of positive consistency out of Byrd is to use him as a complement to more dynamic pass-catching threats, so he’s not drawing top matchups and won’t be relied upon as a primary producer. So, unless those bigger threats emerge internally – how confident are you that N’Keal Harry and Devin Asiasi could fill those roles next season? – the Patriots will need to think bigger in free agency at receiver and/or tight end, with or without Byrd returning.
Despite what you may just plainly believe about Bill Belichick‘s roster-building, he has shown in recent years that he is capable of hitting on free-agent signings at receiver. Obviously not every signing is going to work out all the time (he signed Jordan Matthews, therefore he SUCKS!). But he certainly has a better track record on the market than on the draft board.
You can go back to Brandon LaFell in 2014 as a prime example of a complementary receiver addition that fit perfectly and came up huge in the playoffs. With Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman entrenched as the Patriots’ top pass-catching targets, LaFell thrived in a clear No. 3 role with 74 catches, 953 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. He was the perfect outside threat to complement Gronkowski and Edelman carving up the middle of the field.
Byrd may not even have to be LaFell. Meyers showed in 2020 that he belongs on an NFL depth chart at receiver. Barring major moves at the position, he will be projected as the Pats’ No. 1 wideout in 2021, based on how his snap counts progressed over the course of the season.
But ideally, Meyers and Byrd are merely your 3-4 combo and the true top weapons are more proven talents at receiver and/or tight end. That’s the hard part. Even with Byrd and Meyers back in the fold, who are your top guys? That’s obviously a bigger task. But why let Byrd go and venture back into the unknown for a complementary receiver when you just found one that may work?
Bringing Byrd back is the easy part. It’s where Belichick has had more success finding good fits at receiver. Chris Hogan became something of a household name in New England after signing here. Danny Amendola seemed overpaid when he signed a five-year deal with the Pats, but that move obviously worked out.
There’s a giant elephant in this room now, though. Despite having to credit Belichick for finding pieces that worked, the whole Having Tom Brady™ thing played a major role. The role. So until Belichick figures out his next starting quarterback, it’ll be hard to determine which receivers may fit the Patriots the best, anyway. Just getting that on the record for whoever comments without reading.
But as a complementary player who executed at a surprisingly high level within their system? Someone who actually seemed to get it here? Byrd was an overall success in 2020. So it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to give him another go in 2021.
Need more football talk? You can hear more of my thoughts on the Patriots and their offseason in the newest episode of the SideLines podcast with myself and Ty Anderson. Have a listen below. The football talk starts around the 1:19:37 mark.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at firstname.lastname@example.org.