Saints rankings: No. 4 S Jairus Byrd


I'm ranking the top 20 New Orleans Saints players leading up to training camp. It's based on their current value -- meaning both past accomplishments and potential are taken into account. Think, who would you want on the field most in Week 1 this season?

At No. 4, it's safety Jairus Byrd.

Profile: Year 6, Age 27, 5-foot-10, 203 pounds

Analysis: Expectations are very high for Byrd in New Orleans after he signed a blockbuster, six-year, $54 million contract in free agency. He has been one of the NFL's best young defenders throughout his first five seasons with the Buffalo Bills, making three trips to the Pro Bowl -- including last season. And he's been a turnover machine, which made him especially attractive to the Saints. Byrd's 22 interceptions rank second in the NFL over the past five seasons, and he has forced 11 fumbles in his career.

Injuries are a slight concern with Byrd. He missed the entire summer after undergoing minor back surgery, but the Saints insisted he'd be back to full speed in time for training camp. Byrd also missed the first five games of last season with a foot injury (plantar fasciitis). But he bounced back with four interceptions, a forced fumble, a sack and 48 tackles in his final 11 games to earn the trip to Hawaii.

The Saints' top priority on defense this year is finding a way to create more turnovers, which is why they so aggressively targeted Byrd to add him to a secondary that is now loaded with talent. But evaluators like coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have also praised Byrd's ball skills. Payton has said that offenses pay close attention to which defensive backs they can attack -- and Byrd is the type of defender that quarterbacks don't want to challenge.

Previous rankings:

No. 20 (tie) RBs Mark Ingram/Khiry Robinson

No. 19 WR Kenny Stills

No. 18 S Rafael Bush

No. 17 LB David Hawthorne

No. 16 CB Champ Bailey

No. 15 P Thomas Morstead

No. 14 OT Zach Strief

No. 13 RB Pierre Thomas

No. 12 DE Akiem Hicks

No. 11 S Kenny Vaccaro

No. 10 LB Curtis Lofton

No. 9 G Ben Grubbs

No. 8 OLB Junior Galette

No. 7 WR Marques Colston

No. 6 G Jahri Evans

No. 5 CB Keenan Lewis