As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.
One of the more polarizing players in this year’s draft. Defensive tackle Vernon Butler.
#9 – Vernon Butler/DL Louisiana Tech: 6037, 325
– 34 1/8 arms, 83 1/2 wingspan
– Great footwork, few wasted steps
– Excellent balance
– Vision usually consistent on ballcarrier
– Surprisingly great short-area burst and first step
– Quick to engage hands
– Has played 1t, 3t, t, 7t
– Stout against double teams
– Good hip discipline on outside of line
– Ducks his head when making head-on contact, loses sight of ball carrier
– Engages with high pads at times
– Endurance questions, slows down late in games
– Doesn’t pass rush with a plan, try to carry out moves
– Fails to wrap up tackles in space
– Inconsistent, streaky motor
– Pad level usually too high
– Doesn’t have the footwork to pull off a spin move
– Doesn’t run plays down from behind, play through the whistle
– Accepted Louisiana Tech over Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Memphis and Louisiana-Lafayette
– Senior year, totaled 50 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 2 PD and 1 FR. Junior year was statistically better in almost every category: 54 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR and 1 FF
– Played four years, 49 games
– First Team All-Conference USA 2015
– Received high school letters in football, basketball and track at North Pike (Summit, Miss.) High School
Men as big as Butler should not move like that. Lined up at 3t, Butler swims over the right tackle (current Panther and fourth-round selection Daryl Williams). He keeps his eyes up and his vision on the RB, stays clean and makes the tackle. This is a 320+ pound war daddy, folks. Agility and quickness like this are rare.
Butler is the 3t on the right side now. He beats LG Adam Shead with another curt arm-over move. Notice how quick and sudden he is, with his eyes in the backfield the whole time. Once free, he accelerates quickly with some remarkable short-area burst to put a hit on the QB. Tremendous athleticism from Butler.
Butler recognizes the pulling guard and adjusts to hit that marginally open gap. From there, Butler uses his short-area quickness to close on the RB in a flash. The result is him being one-on-one in space with the RB. He doesn’t make the tackle (because no man of his size should theoretically be able to make that kind of readjustment in the backfield according to physics), but this disruption is key to the play only going for a short gain. However, if you can get both hands on his back, you have to finish this play. Disruption does not equal production, and the impact for both is not the same.
Butler has tremendous athleticism in not only upper and lower body bend, but in raw strength. This is just a simple bullrush, putting the OL on skates and pushing him into Brandon Doughty’s lap.
However, Butler does have clear instances of pass rushing without a plan. He gets a bad jump on the snap, and then tries to compensate with a very half-hearted weak bullrush. That’s not going to fly in the NFL where offensive linemen anchor better than a naval fleet.
What Butler lacks is pass rushing with a plan. It’s one thing to go out and attempt to bullrush an OG into the QB. It’s another to begin a bullrush and peter out halfway through. Butler lacks a lot of NFL-level counter and pass rush moves, and it shows. His bag of tricks is very small, and it’s a repertoire that will need to swell by the professional ranks. If he doesn’t know what he’s going to choose as a move going into a play, he’s not going to have any success rushing the passer. I saw this repeatedly on tape, so please don’t take it as an isolated incident, either.
For a long time in college, Vernon Butler has won on sheer athleticism and power alone. It’s hard to match up with him against the run, where his swim move is as devastating as can be against poor slow college offensive linemen. Against the pass, if he’s able to set his feet on a bullrush, he’ll be a force.
However, there’s more to this dancing bear than just that. Butler lacks more general coaching, which is evident in his use of hands and moves. It’s not that Butler lacks in those categories, it’s just that he’s never had any real training in how to use them. He’s extremely raw but his natural athleticism and short-area burst mean he can win battles as is. When trained in NFL techniques, he could really be dominant.
However, that’s not going to happen overnight. Don’t be fooled by the flashy plays bursting through the line into the backfield, that probably won’t work consistently against NFL-caliber offensive line and athletes. Instead, Butler needs to work on tools that bolster and work with his athleticism, instead of trying to win with one or the other. He also needs to work on finishing plays better. I saw far too many low-effort snaps jogging a play down from behind or not being able to complete a tackle for loss.
Even at his size, his ridiculous athleticism means Butler could play anywhere on the line. I think he’s best suited long-term at nose tackle, but defensive end in a 3-4 is easily within his abilities right now. He doesn’t have the pad level to hold up against double teams for the moment, so it seems as though a beginning at end before being moved inside will best suit him. Right now I have Butler as a second round grade, but with a dominant combine performance he could see his name rise into Day One.
Projection: Second Round
Games Watched: Arkansas State, at Western Kentucky, at Oklahoma (2014)