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2016 NFL Draft Profile: Kevin Byard, Safety, MTSU

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Safety is something the Bengals may look to address in the latter rounds, so watch out for Kevin Byard.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Byard

Height: 5'11"

Weight: 216 lbs

Arm length: 33.5"

Hands: 9 7/8"

College: Middle Tennesee State

Class: Senior

40-yard dash: 4.44 seconds

Vertical: 38"

Broad jump: 9 feet

Short shuttle: 4.15 seconds

3-cone: 6.73 seconds

Bench: 22 reps of 225 pounds

Safety has been a strength of the Bengals' during their streak of five-straight playoff berths, but it's not been because of high-round talent or big-name free agents. It's been because of bargain free agents and late-round picks whose strengths were utilized and combined enough that this has been a very effective unit.

While that shouldn't change in 2016, the Bengals will be undergoing some changes after they lost Reggie Nelson this offseason. Because of this, expect Cincinnati to take a safety at some point in the 2016 NFL Draft. They'll more than likely wait until the latter rounds to nab one in the same way they landed George Iloka, 95th round), Shawn Williams (3rd round), Derron Smith (6th round) and even Nelson himself (traded fringe corner David Jones to Jaguars).

One safety to watch out for in the latter parts of this draft is Middle Tennessee State's Kevin Byard. The 5'11", 216-pound Byard played in the 2016 Senior Bowl after a standout season with the Blue Raidersand he made a favorable impression on scouts and teammates in Mobile.

However. Byard was not invited to the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, despite being a two-time first-team All-Conference USA selection and a three-time Jim Thorpe Watch List honoree over the course of his four years in college.

This past season, Byard racked up 66 tackles to go with a team-high four interceptions and six pass breakups in 12 games. In 2014, Byard notched 72 tackles, including three tackles for loss, a team-high six interceptions, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

In 2013, Byard started all 13 games while collecting a career-best 106 tackles to go with a team-high five interceptions, five pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He finished his career with 19 interceptions in his for the Blue Raiders and goes down as one of the best ever at MTSU.

Byard ranks first in Interceptions (19), first in interception return yards (377) and first in interceptions returned for a touchdown (3) in school history. He also ranks sixth in total tackles (318). He was simply one of the best safeties in college football in recent years and someone who should make an NFL roster.

Despite all of his great production, success and honors, he's flying under the radar heading in the draft. NFL.com' Lance Zierlein also did not have a favorable report on Byard, which explains his 5.28 grade (Developmental prospect or special teams potential).

STRENGTHS: Strong football IQ. Lines secondary up and is assignment-­oriented. Disciplined in zone coverage reading and responding to the quarterback’s eyes. Scans through route developments like a quarterback. Good awareness as single-­high safety and rarely panics when faced with route combinations meant to create mistakes and indecision. Plays with smooth backpedal and adequate footwork and looks to have. Always active. Effort never questioned and brings desired football character onto field and into locker room. Willing downhill charge against the run.

WEAKNESSES: Despite his frame, not as physical a hitter as expected. Had opportunities to make the big hit but rarely chose to send that message. Active tackler, but needs to be better at squaring up and finishing with direct wrap ­up tackles rather than grab and drag finishes.

DRAFT PROJECTION: Rounds 6 or 7

CBS Sports has Byard ranked as their 105th-best prospect, which puts him in that Round 3-4 draft range. Here's a look at what Rob Rang had to say about Byard:

STRENGTH: Possesses an imposing frame with a compact, well-put together musculature. Route recognition from time spent in the weight room and his high school days at wide receiver show up on tape, as he locates the football well and is rarely fooled in coverage. Does an excellent job reading the eyes of the quarterback and gaining proper position with aggressiveness and timing at the catch point, showing strong hands and hand-eye coordination to pluck the ball.

Displays smooth hip action on game film to flip and change directions quickly, accelerating smoothly. Has a knack for creating turnovers, forcing five fumbles (and recovering another) to go along with his interceptions. A generally reliable open-field tackler who wraps his arms securely.

WEAKNESSES: Shorter than ideal and isn't the tone-setter that his frame would indicate, resorting more often to lassoing ballcarriers rather than delivering explosive hits. Changes directions fluidly but tops out quickly and may struggle matching up against NFL receivers, showing less-than-ideal straight-line speed to cover the deep ball.

IN OUR VIEW: Byard's knack for creating big plays has earned him attention throughout his career but there are holes in his game, including a lack of ideal physicality and playing speed. Against the elite competition he'll face in the NFL, the former two-star recruit will once again have to buck the odds.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has Byard ranked 157th overall, so it looks like Byard is more likely to be drafted in that 3-5 range than the 6-7 range Zierlein projects.

You can be the judge, watch his highlights below: