KEITH BYARS: AHEAD OF HIS TIME
BEFORE THIS GENERATION OF DYNAMIC ALL-PURPOSE RUNNING BACKS, THE
FORMER FIRST-ROUND PICK WAS ONE OF THE TEAM’S MOST VALUABLE
BY RAY DIDINGER
When Buddy Ryan drafted Keith Byars in
1986, he labeled him “a franchise back.” It
was easy to understand since Byars set the
Ohio State single-season record for rushing
yards (1,764) and touchdowns (22).
“He’s one of the best college backs I’ve
ever seen,” Ryan said after selecting Byars
in the first round. “The game that always
stands out is the one against Illinois when
he beat them all by himself. He ran kickoffs
back, he caught passes, he ran over people.
He was unbelievable, God almighty.”
Byars was runner-up to Boston College
quarterback Doug Flutie for the Heisman
Trophy in 1984 but in his senior year, he
broke a bone in his foot and that changed
the arc of his career. He suffered a broken
metatarsal bone in each of his first two
seasons with the Eagles and it caused the
coaches to reevaluate his role. Maybe he
32 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES GAMEDAY MAGAZINE
wasn’t going to be the workhorse power
runner they expected.
However, they noticed Byars was
surprisingly fluid catching the football.
He had soft hands, ran nice patterns, and
demonstrated a good understanding of the
passing game. It wasn’t all that surprising
considering he was a tight end his first two
years at Roth High School in Dayton, Ohio
before moving to tailback.
This started the Eagles’ coaches thinking:
Why keep running Byars up the middle
when they can split him wide, throw him
the ball, and use his 6-1, 240-pound muscle
to trample people in the open field? So
they tried it and found that it worked and
in a 13-year career, Byars evolved into
one of the most versatile − and valuable −
players in the NFL.
On September 30, 1990, Byars had a
career-high 12 receptions in a game against
Indianapolis at Veterans Stadium. At the
time, it was the most receptions in a single
game by an Eagles running back. Brian
Westbrook finally topped it with 14 catches
against Dallas on November 4, 2007, but
it indicates as a player, Byars really was
ahead of his time.
At various times, he lined up at five
different positions − tailback, fullback, tight
end, slot receiver, and wide receiver. He
moved around the various formations like
an oversized pea in a carnival shell game.
Around and around he goes and where he
stops, well, that’s for the defense to
Consider this: From 1988 to 1990, Byars
caught 221 passes. Only four players in the
entire league, all wide receivers, caught
more. He had 81 receptions in 1990 which