The NFL is a passing league, and there’s no doubt that quarterbacks are the stars. So it’s important to have defensive linemen who can slow down opposing offenses. Sam Gold examines one of the more intriguing lineman in this year’s draft, Vernon Butler.
Vernon Butler was a two-star recruit coming out of high school, but after playing all four seasons with Louisiana Tech he developed into a First-Team All-Conference USA honors player as a senior. Butler’s size, length, and quickness off the line of scrimmage makes him a great fit as a one-gap interior defensive lineman in the NFL.
Below, you will see the spider chart comparison from MockDraftable.com between Butler’s combine performance against other defensive tackle prospects since 1999:
While his speed, as evidenced in the 40-yard dash, is not impressive, his conversion of short area quickness to power is his best trait as a pass rusher. In this play, Butler lines up as a 3 technique defensive tackle and bursts off the line of scrimmage. He places his hands on the shoulder pads of the Western Kentucky right guard forcing him backwards creating power with his long arms.
His strength and length is the reason why his draft stock has steadily risen since the Senior Bowl, where he consistently overpowered offensive lineman.Outside of his bull rush, Butler does not possess a variety of pass rushing techniques. He is very raw technically, and it shows on film when he does not mentally prepare a pass rush technique in advance of the snap:
In this play, Butler stutter steps towards the right guard after the snap. Butler needs to decide before each snap, which moves and countermoves he wants to execute in order to be a more effective pass rusher. This indecision stops him from pressuring the quarterback, which could lead to a sack or interception.
Butler’s run defense is very inconsistent . There were times where he controlled his offensive lineman perfectly to force the running back to another gap. In this play, Butler attacks the right guard immediately after the snap and does a good job of shutting down both A– and B-gaps. If the defensive end held the edge better, this could have been a stop for the defense at the line of scrimmage as opposed to a 7-yard gain.
But, Butler struggled when he did not stay square to the line of scrimmage. Here, Butler does a good job of keeping his feet moving down the line of scrimmage, but he does not turn his shoulders parallel to the sideline. This reduces his power and leverage on the blocker.
Butler’s major weakness is that his pad level rises immediately after the snap. This is especially true against double teams, where he needs to stay low and anchor against their push. His high pad level issues are on full display in the play below:
Additionally, he needs to do a better job of driving his feet towards the target at the point of attack to control the blocker.
Butler’s best fit in the NFL is inside as a 1 technique nose tackle or 3 technique defensive tackle in a one-gap scheme. Each of these positions will allow him to use his quickness to convert to power effectively.
Overall, Butler is an extremely raw technician, and relies too heavily on his upper body strength. With a patient defensive line coach that can teach him the technical aspects of the position, Butler can grow into a powerful defensive tackle in the NFL.