Damiere Byrd has elite straight line speed, but his fledgling career is already dotted with twists and turns.
The former South Carolina Gamecock wideout recently detailed those peaks and valleys in a recent visit to Columbia, S.C. with digital media producer Austin Gaines.
While walking on the Willams-Brice Stadium turf for the first time since his Senior Day in 2014, Byrd recalled a junior season when he had 33 receptions for 575 yards – a nice jump from the 15 catches and 382 yards he totaled his first two years. But that breakout was short-lived. Byrd injured his knee on the first day of practice for the Capital One Bowl, a setback that plagued him throughout a senior season that saw his numbers dip to 20 receptions for 308 yards.
"At one point, honestly, I didn't know if I was going to get another chance to even keep playing after that year," Byrd admitted.
But the door wasn't completely shut.
"I knew that if I could go out and have a good enough pro day to open those scouts eyes, 'Hey who is this? Who is this guy? He's not testing the way his film shows. We need to learn a little bit more,'" Byrd said.
It sure helped when he blazed a 4.28 40-yard dash at South Carolina's pro day. That speed caught the eye of the Panthers, who made Byrd a priority undrafted free agent signing shortly after the 2015 draft.
After spending the bulk of his first two pro seasons on Carolina's practice squad, it appeared Byrd would finally get a long look on the active roster in 2017. That, too, was short-lived. He went on injured reserve after breaking his arm against the Patriots in Week 4.
But desperate for speed that could help open up the offense, the Panthers brought Byrd back onto the roster in December. And for a few weeks, at least, things were again clicking.
A game after he had a career-high five receptions against the Vikings, Byrd caught the first two touchdown receptions of his career in a win over the Packers. A week later, he burned the Buccaneers with a franchise-record 103-yard kick return late in the second quarter. But while returning the opening kickoff of the second half, Byrd took a helmet to his left knee, which bent awkwardly in the turf. Two days later, he was back on injured reserve.
"I (saw) the light," Byrd said, "but now, I'm back deep into the tunnel and I'm trying to get back to the light again."
He'll have one more chance to climb out of his latest valley, at least. The Panthers on Friday placed a one-year exclusive rights tender on Byrd, who's back to full health and expects to be full-go when players return for spring workouts next month.
"You're going to fail; you're going to hurt. The faster you accept it, the faster you can get up and get moving back to where you were," Byrd said. "Once you do reach that point to where you were before you fell, you'll be 10 times stronger than what you already were."