NASHVILLE – Titans safety Kevin Byard had a lot to be proud of in 2020.
On the field, Byard led the team in tackles with a career-high 111. He was fourth on the team in passes defensed during a season when the team won 11 games, and the AFC South, for the first time since the 2008 season.
Off the field, the fifth-year pro was named the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which recognizes an NFL player from each team for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field.
Yet when Byard packed his belongings after the season, he felt he could have, and perhaps should have, done more on the football field.
"I absolutely felt like, even though I led the team in tackles, I don't feel like I played up to my level, my standard," Byard said. "Obviously I didn't find the ball as much this year, and that was a little bit disappointing. But I just know from my personal standard, I could have played a lot better. And I want to make sure coming into next year, during the offseason, I want to work on myself, work on my body, work on my mind, work on my spirit, to make sure I can have that extremely high level of play that I am accustomed to doing – leading the team in tackles, leading the team in interceptions, doing everything possible to win ball games. I feel like that is what I get paid to do, and that is the type of player I am – I am always going to be harder on myself than anybody would be on me. I take everything personal and next year that is going to be my main goal, to play to the highest standard I could possible play at."
Byard, a third-round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Middle Tennessee State, had just one interception in 2020 after tallying five in 2019, and 17 in the three previous years combined. Byard did have two quarterback pressures in 2020, and he forced a fumble in addition to his seven pass break-ups.
Playing on the back end of the defense, Byard started all 16 games for the fourth year in a row when the secondary dealt with a lot of changes around him. While Malcolm Butler was a regular starter at cornerback, Johnathan Joseph, Desmond King, Breon Borders, Chris Jackson, Kristian Fulton, Tye Smith, Adoree' Jackson and Kareem Orr all worked at cornerback, as Byard played alongside safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Amani Hooker.
Byard made no excuses, and he said he wants to make the defense better as a whole in 2021. He was frustrated because the defense finished in the bottom of the league in a lot of categories in 2020.
"I don't think that we played up to the level of expectations that I know we are capable of, the standard that we have, not only in our DB room, but as an entire defense," Byard said. "We didn't live up to that standard and for me personally, as a leader, going into this offseason that is going to be my No.1 priority -- making sure that I come back and find a way to be a better leader. (I want) to make sure that when we do come back, the standard is being set, and we live up to the expectation every single day, whether that's in the meeting rooms, in walkthroughs, in practice, and holding guys accountable, holding guys to a higher standard and getting all of us on the same page.
"I think that is something I can be better at next year, and it's something I am looking forward to improving. I have a burning desire to want to be the best, and everything that I do in this offseason … will be working on being the best."