Though his season was shortened by injury and his team is not going to the playoffs, rookie free safety Jairus Byrd's on field exploits could not be ignored by NFL fans, players and coaches as the Bills former second-round pick was selected to represent the AFC in the 2010 Pro Bowl.
"It's a blessing," said Byrd. "It's definitely a cool thing. I'm honored."
Byrd is the first Bills rookie to be voted to the Pro Bowl since 1984 when rookie running back Greg Bell was named to the AFC roster after an 1,100-yard rushing season, which included seven touchdowns. He's the first rookie defensive back in team history to earn such an honor.
The first-year safety will serve as the reserve as Baltimore's Ed Reed was named the starter at free safety. Byrd is currently tied for the league lead in interceptions with New Orleans veteran safety Darren Sharper. Both defensive backs have nine INTs this season.
Byrd's accomplishments are arguably more impressive than that of Sharper. Byrd was not a starter at the beginning of the season. Though he played in each of the first 14 games this season, he did not make his first career start until Week 4 against Miami.
Add in the fact that he was making a position switch from cornerback to safety as a rookie, and that he missed almost the entire offseason due to a late final exam schedule at Oregon and sports hernia surgery in the summer and it quickly becomes apparent that Byrd is a unique talent.
"Jairus is an exceptional individual," said Bills defensive backs coach George Catavolos. "He plays the ball probably as well as anybody in the league or better. And he's still learning in the scheme and what's expected of him from effort to technique. He might not have as many interceptions every year, but if he studies the game and the defense he'll be even more effective in years to come, not just against the pass but in the run game too."
Byrd's exploits were essential in three of Buffalo's five victories this season. His interception in Week 6 against the Jets led to a game-tying touchdown that forced overtime, which the Bills ultimately won 16-13. The following week against Carolina, his two interceptions led to Buffalo's only two touchdowns in a 20-9 victory. And in Week 13 against Kansas City, his interception at the Bills five-yard line with just over two minutes remaining helped preserve a 16-10 lead to ensure victory.
"You always teach about focus and being focused for every play you're out there and the good ones can do that," said Catavolos. "They know the formation, the personnel groupings and what's going to come out of it based on tendencies so they're able to play a little more aggressively."
As good as the news was on Tuesday for Byrd there is one negative. Following surgery Monday to repair a torn labrum in his hip he is not expected to play in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 31. The free safety is looking at a four month rehabilitation, which is expected to have him ready in time for the start of Buffalo's offseason conditioning program in late March.
Though his talent is unlikely to be on display in the league's All-Star game, there is no debating that Byrd's future is bright.
"He can be as good as he would like to be," said interim head coach Perry Fewell. "His growth and development will only get better."
"It's exciting and I still have so much to learn too," Byrd said. "I'm excited about this offseason and getting healthy and trying to take another step. I don't put limits on what I can do."