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MTSU's Richie James: Titans Star Kevin Byard Made Me Better


INDIANAPOLIS – MTSU receiver Richie James is confident he can perform at a high level in the NFL, and for good reason.

While in college, he had success against one of the league's new stars – Titans safety Kevin Byard.

"We'd get after it every practice, man," James said from the NFL Combine. "If a guy lined up in front of me, he was like, I got this rep. And that's the type of player he is, and it shows at the NFL level."

So who would win those battles?

"It was me 90 percent of the time," James said with a smile. "And I tell him that all the time. Nah, we had some great battles, man. A guy like that, he made me so much better. He is a physical guy, he can run with you. He's always had great instincts, and he can move with you.

"But he would tell you straight up: I'm the best person he ever went against in practice. … I really think we made each other better."

Byard, the last MTSU player picked in the NFL Draft (in the third round in 2016), had a breakout season for the Titans in 2017. Byard led the NFL in takeways with 10, and he was named All-Pro. He played in the Pro Bowl after tying for the NFL lead with eight interceptions.

Now it's time for James to make his mark, and he had an impressive day on Saturday morning.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock talked about James and his versatility during Saturday's telecast of the NFL Combine. When James ran an unofficial time of 4.48 on his first 40-yard dash, Mayock said: "That's a good time for him – sub 4.5."

Other draft observers chimed in after watching James run the gauntlet, and catch passes.

"Richie James is one of the more underrated WRs in the class," The Mick Nartin, a writer for Behind The Steel Curtain, wrote on Twitter. "I've always found his game similar to that of (Memphis receiver) Anthony Miller in some ways. Both have excellent hips to sink and cut with ease, play larger than their size, excellent route runners and hands, but both are very tough SOBs."

"Richie James is a day 3 guy, but he's a good player (who is) having a good day," wrote Eliot Crist, analyst for DL Football. "Good times, natural catcher, good extension on bad throws, looks ball in, nice adjustments to inaccurate throws."

NFL Network's Charles Davis wrote this on Twitter: "Slot WR's that are intriguing me are Richie James and Anthony Miller. BIG production in school!"

After posting back-to-back seasons with over 100 catches in 2015 and 2016, James played just five games in 2017 due to injuries. Still, the 5-foot-9 James owns the MTSU career records in catches (244), receiving yardage (3,261) and receiving touchdowns (23).

James has been soaking up the experience at the NFL Combine. After watching the event for so many years, he said on Friday he could hardly believe he was in Indianapolis. After talking with reporters on Friday, he picked up his name card and kept it as a souvenir.

"This is exciting -- you only go through this one time. Me being 22 years old, I have to soak this in," James said. "It is weird seeing it, and now you are going to do it. I get to be in that stadium and perform in front of all the scouts. It's great.

"I just want to show what I can do. My film speaks for itself, and I feel like I am just checking boxes at this point."

James said he's thankful to Byard for helping make his better, and for his support.

Watching his success in the NFL has inspired him, he said.

"KB, he gave me advice before I even declared. He was like: Work hard, and be yourself. You're a great player. And that means a lot coming from him. I take it all in," James said of Byard. "KB is a guy who is always coming around the campus. He is always showing love, and he is always going to be a Blue Raider for life.

"To see the success he's had, it's awesome. We knew he could do it – the guy had 19 interceptions (at MTSU). And he goes to the NFL and does the same thing. We knew he could go to the NFL and play at a high level and that is what he has shown. Now I just want to show I can do it, too." looks back at safety Kevin Byard's All-Pro 2017 season. (AP Photos)

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