Very Deep Sleeper: Damiere Byrd (Fantasy Football)
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In Week 1 of the preseason, there was a game played between the Panthers and Texans. You may not have realized it was a football game – you might have thought it was an infomercial for Christian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson (who did not ‘shine’ in this game – I’m not sure what everyone else was watching). But, I’m not lying to you – they actually played a real game and there were other players on these two teams that played in it. One of them was Carolina third-year wide receiver Damiere Byrd – who caught two TD passes in the game. He didn’t have Deshaun Watson throwing to him either…Byrd did this without Watson’s magic touch, but did so with the vaunted Joe Webb. The event will quickly be forgotten this week in the wake of all the other preseason games happening after.
This is not so much a story of a guy having a great preseason game and looking at the depth chart and seeing a fantasy opportunity. Here’s the reason to at least pay attention – Byrd’s athleticism…plus, the opportunity.
In the offseason, I scout for the NFL Draft using ‘analytics’ or Moneyball theories to find and report on players, and then study their tape and background from there. I have a big database of player data and grades from the past decade. When I go into my database and ask to see any wide receiver prospect who is less than 6′0″ tall (Byrd is 5′9″), ran faster than 4.40 40-time pre-Draft (Byrd 4.27 at his Pro Day), produced a less than 6.80 three-cone time (which is high-end, and Byrd produced a 6.59), and who leapt 38.0″ or greater in the vertical (Byrd a very high end 42.0″)…I get back five names:
— Devin Hester, a Hall of Fame return man.
— Aldrick Robinson, draft pick of Washington in 2012 and had a re-birth with Atlanta last year – and followed Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco for 2017.
— Marquise Goodwin, who was also grabbed by the 49ers this year…and understandably on this list, as he was an Olympic athlete along with playing football.
The Tyreek Hill comp may have your juices flowing a bit. It should, but there’s one problem. I didn’t put in any weight restrictions on my search. Byrd is in the low 170s and Hill in the 185-range. Byrd is a little smaller-framed, more apt for injury (in theory). Hill is also a trained/experienced running back. Byrd’s history is strictly as a wide receiver. It’s not apples to apples, but there are enough similarities to stop and consider with Byrd.
Byrd was a sporadically used wide receiver at South Carolina (2011-14), playing all four years. He was used more his final three years but never had a ‘wow’ season. His best season was as a junior – 33 catches for 575 yards and four TDs in 11 games. To be fair, the Gamecocks’ passing game was not great or high-volume and several future NFL WRs were there getting more touches each year (Bruce Ellington, Ace Sanders, Pharoh Cooper). Byrd never really stood out. He had a few ‘flash’ moments in college but mostly blended into the background.
Byrd was pretty much ignored for the 2015 NFL Draft. He took a tryout with Carolina, showed some more flashes, and went onto the practice squad. In 2016, it looked like Byrd might make the 53-man roster, but didn’t – back to the practice squad. Carolina released Byrd mid-2016 season but brought him back later and he actually joined the active roster and had his first (and only catch) in Week 17 last season.
Things were looking up for Byrd in 2017, but then in March he reported to the team that he tore his meniscus during a workout. I thought he would be out a while. Byrd is obviously fine/back – scoring two TDs and dominating Week 1 of the preseason. His stock is back on the rise.
Consider the Panthers’ WR depth chart – Kelvin Benjamin…and then what? Devin Funchess? He’s awful. Curtis Samuel…a rookie who has been hurt most of the preseason? Russell Shepard? He’s a special teamer and No. 4/5 WR for depth. There is a window for someone to step up and be the deep threat, No. 3 WR in the void left by Ted Ginn (who was fantasy relevant in Carolina) – and that guy is very likely going to be Damiere Byrd, who has been scratching and clawing his way with this team for three years now.
Byrd has good history with the team and he has the measurables, and now he is showing out in the preseason. He might not only be a starter at wide receiver, and their most explosive/fastest weapon (if Samuel is still out), but he may be a kick and punt returner as well (if that adds to your fantasy scoring). Let’s see what happens with Byrd in the next two preseason games when/if Cam starts working with “the 1s.” Let’salso watch him in the return game and maybe even getting a carry as a runner?
I’m not shoving chips ‘all in’ on him, but I am monitoring, looking to see if he starts running with the ‘1s’ this week or next in the preseason. If he does, he might be a shock fantasy performer based on his explosive measurables.
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