One Of The Great Players in Philadelphia Eagles History: Keith Byars

Leo PizziniAnalyst IJune 25, 2009

22 Nov 1998:  Fullback Keith Byars #41 of the New York Jets in action during the game against the Tennessee Oilers at the Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. The Jets defeated the Oilers 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Scott Halleran  /Allsport

It's time to show some love for former Eagles' running back Keith Byars. 

He will never get the respect he deserves because he came out of college as a highly rated running back and he did not have the same conventional statistics in the NFL as he did at Ohio State.

But Byars was more like a tight end that lined up in the backfield.

Keith Byars was really an amazing player to watch on a very fun Philadelphia Eagles team.  Nothing was very conventional about the Eagles in that era and in form, one never knew what to expect from Byars.

At Ohio State, Byars dominated the football field as a running back and a kick returner

In 1984 he was runner up to Doug Flutie for the Heisman trophy.

In 1985 he broke his foot and reinjured it two more times that season as he prematurely returned to the field.  He had several corrective surgeries and his foot was never quite the same.

Prior to his first draft, cagey Buddy Ryan called Keith Byars a "medical reject" to throw off the NFL war rooms and never worked him out or spoke with Byars.

Ryan called Byars when the Eagles 10th overall selection came up and simply said, "I'm drafting you."--to the surprise of everyone, including Byars.

Despite his foot injury, Byars found a great role with the Eagles.  He did just about everything.  He played running back, full back, tight end and lined up as a slot wide receiver.  He threw the ball, he made one handed catches and he decleated would be tacklers with some of the greatest blocks in NFL history.

In 2004, Jim Gehman of interviewed Byars about what his versatile role in the offense was like.

Byars said, "The way our offense was structured, we didn't have wholesale changes like they do now.... A lot of times we would go to our four wide receiver package with me and Keith Jackson out there. We would just do it, it was no problem... Most wide receivers don't like to catch the ball inside the numbers, so me and Keith would take a lot of those passes. It was a lot of fun."

Here's a look at what Byars did statistically as Eagle:


Keith Byars 1988 effort was statistically his best season, but in the 1990 season he became more effective as the prime receiving target of quarterback Randall Cunningham.

In 1990, Byars also completed four out of four passes for four touchdowns--perfection.  He threw five touchdown passes with the Eagles and six in his career. 

I remember a play where Byars picked a wild pass out of the hands of an opposing cornerback that was already running for a pick-six.  I've never seen anything like that.  The cornerback was literally in the middle of embracing the ball and Byars just went "wooop, I'll take that..." with a slight of hand magic trick kind of thing.

Byars finished his 13 NFL seasons with 8,770 yards from scrimmage and 54 touchdowns.  He played for the Eagles for seven years.  He also played for the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.

He added a dynamic to football, not just the Eagles.  He was a worthy adversary of the best defenders in the NFL.

Byars didn't make the pro bowl until 1993 when he was a Dolphin.  His performance that season was a very standard year for Byars and his pro bowl selection was a greater representation of his body of work in Philadelphia from 1986 through 1992 along with his 1993 season in Miami.

If Byars had been considered a tight end along with Keith Jackson, his receiving numbers alone would have garnered more respect.  He had the complete package to play the tight end position and at 6'1" and 245 pounds, Byars could block, catch, and feel a play's natural development at an elite level.

He was also the best running back on a team that couldn't block and yielded the most sacks in the NFL almost every year.

Byars was a quality football player and is a quality person.

When asked what he was most proud of during his career, Byars said, "Giving everything I had on every play I was out there... I never took a play off; never ran out of bounds..."'s Dave Spadaro recently spoke with former Eagles running back Keith Byars who said, "Philly was great and it is always near and dear to my heart.  I loved my time there, those teams, the fans, my teammates and coaches. Every player should have the chance to play for the Eagles, for those fans. They were great."

Byars continues to be involved with football as a commentator and high school football coach.

An often overshadowed component to the success of the Philadelphia Eagles during the Buddy Ryan, Randall Cunningham and "Gang Green" era, Keith Byars can never be forgotten by the Eagles fans who watched him compete in a fierce NFC East.


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