Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard returned to his ball-hawking ways in 2021.
The NFL took notice.
Byard was named an All-Pro safety Friday by the Associated Press, earning that title for the second time in his career. The first time since 2017.
He was far and away the top vote-getter at the position with 41. Second-place Jordan Poyer of Buffalo got 12 votes.
Teammate Jeffery Simmons earned second-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his career, getting 10 votes at interior line. He finished behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald (50) and Pittsburgh’s Cam Heyward (19), tied with Kansas City’s Chris Jones (10).
Other Titans that received votes were long snapper Morgan Cox (four) and left guard Rodger Saffold (one).
Byard’s selection marked the sixth straight season the Titans earned at least one first-team All-Pro selection, a stretch that dates back to 2016, when running back DeMarco Murray received the honor. Byard was earlier named to the Pro Bowl, completing the same double – Pro Bowl and All-Pro – he accomplished in 2017.
A Middle Tennessee State University product, Byard tied for fourth in the NFL and led the Titans with five interceptions this season. He also posted a team-high 88 tackles, and ranked second on the Titans with 13 passes defensed.
Byard’s handful of picks this year marked a return to form in the turnover department, after he recorded just one interception in 2020.
Over the past five years Byard’s 23 interceptions rank third in the NFL. He totaled eight in 2017, four in 2018, five in 2019 and one in 2020.
The 28 year-old Byard also scored the first two touchdowns of his career this season – one on a 30-yard fumble return against Jacksonville, and the other on a 24-yard interception return against the Los Angeles Rams.
For Simmons, the recognition comes on top of his selection as an alternate to the Pro Bowl. The 2019 first-round pick totaled a career-high 8.5 sacks in 2021 and added 54 tackles. He also was credited with a team-high 58 quarterback pressures and six passes defensed, and he finished second on the Titans with 12 tackles for loss.
The contributions of Byard and Simmons were two of the reasons the Titans made huge strides defensively this season, rising from 28th overall in 2020 to 12th in 2021.
Tennessee (12-5) earned the AFC’s top seed and a playoff bye this weekend.