The Cardinals have a plethora of intriguing options at slot receiver.
There is future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, breakout candidate Christian Kirk and speedy rookie Andy Isabella. All of them can hurt defenses, but only if they have room to operate.
The 2018 passing game was stunted in part because defensive backs could sit on underneath routes and dare the Cardinals to beat them deep. The chunk plays rarely connected, and in order for coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense to reach maximum capacity in 2019, that threat must be present.
It’s hard to know who will emerge among the glut of outside wide receivers on the roster, but Damiere Byrd holds intrigue. The fourth-year speedster reportedly ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day coming out of South Carolina and said he can still rev it up to that number.
Byrd only had 11 catches for 104 yards in eight games for the Panthers last season, but even in a specialized role he could be an asset, like J.J. Nelson was at times for the Cardinals.
“Whenever you can get vertical and you have that threat, you can get defenses to be a little nervous about playing bump-and-run and to have those safeties in the box,” Byrd said. “Being able to do that, having those guys back off, it helps us a lot. We can be more balanced and do the things we want to do.”
Byrd is expected to compete with players like Hakeem Butler, KeeSean Johnson, Kevin White, Trent Sherfield, Pharoh Cooper and Chad Williams to make the roster and then earn playing time.
While players like Fitzgerald, Kirk and David Johnson are expected to get the most touches, Byrd feels like there is plenty of room for others.
“The beautiful thing about this offense is that we run with four receivers,” Byrd said. “You don’t normally see that in the NFL, so that brings out a lot more opportunity in general. It’s a big opportunity for guy Nos. 7, 8, 9 and down the line.”
Kingsbury has brought up the importance of a deep threat a couple times this offseason. Kirk and Isabella have that capability, but it remains to be seen how often they are used in the role. Byrd, who also has punt and kick return ability, would seem to be a natural fit.
“Damiere can really run,” Kingsbury said. “Great speed. He tries to do everything right. Whatever coach (David) Raih is teaching him, he tries to apply to the practice field. So we like his work habits and we like that burst that he brings.”
Byrd averaged 18.6 yards per catch at South Carolina but has only 12 receptions in three NFL seasons. It hasn’t been easy to find a role offensively, and injuries have also plagued him. In Kingsbury’s first draft, three wide receivers were picked, and subconsciously the organization will be rooting for Isabella, Butler and Johnson to succeed.
Byrd doesn’t mind the competition.
“I don’t think I could even name a year when I was in the room that didn’t get a draft pick,” he said. “You kind of just know that’s what it is. They’re always going to bring new people in, but at the end of the day it’s about playing football, and it’s those snaps you get in between the lines. The draft picks and the names being called on TV doesn’t affect how you go out and play.”
Training camp isn’t far off, and while some positions are set, others have much to be determined. Outside receiver is one of those unknowns, and Byrd is ready for his shot.
“I feel like this is perfect for my skillset,” Byrd said. “Spread the offense out, (which) spreads the defense out. The vertical game with the tempo. It fits every one of my strengths.”
Cardinals training camp images from 2016-2018