College: Louisiana Tech
Position: Defensive Tackle
College Stats: 170 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, five sacks.
One of the biggest defensive tackles in this year's draft class, Vernon Butler could easily work his way into the opening round of the NFL draft. A Mississippi native, Butler spurned both Ole Miss and Mississippi State in order to head to Ruston, Louisiana for his college career. It was an excellent decision as Butler immediately made his presence known with 21 tackles as a true freshman.
He added another 45 as a sophomore before breaking out in the 2014 season as a junior. The massive tackle recorded 56 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss, for the Bulldogs. He mulled declaring for the NFL one year early, but decided to come back for his senior season. Again, he made a great decision with a senior year that included First Team All-Conference USA and First Team All-Louisiana honors. He was the leading force for a Louisiana Tech rushing defense that gave up only 119.3 yards per game.
The case for Butler going in the first round:
First off, take a look at Butler and try to say he doesn't look the part. He is a massive human being that could even put on more weight and play closer to a 330-345 range if needed. He can play the role of the block absorbing or he can push the pocket almost at will. Butler is wildly athletic for his size, showing a rare ability of someone his size to move across the line of scrimmage.
Butler has impressive durability, playing just as strong in the fourth quarter as in the first. He does an excellent job as using his arms to gain separation from blockers. Doing so, Butler is able to see the field well and can shed blockers to find the ball carrier and put himself in position to make plays.
Butler was among the most impressive defensive tackles in Senior Bowl practice, showing off a combination of power and finesse versus quality competition. While many players with Conference USA pedigrees may get downgraded by competition, Butler has played several games versus power five conference programs while at Louisiana Tech.
The case against Butler going in the first round:
As good as he looks on film, Butler's ability to get tackles for loss and sacks is a bit below NFL scout expectations. He is top heavy and has a habit of getting too high when trying to shoot a gap. Butler struggles when being blocked from an angle, showing some trouble in discarding blockers in that situation.
When he doesn't gain arm extension, he can be manhandled at times by the better offensive linemen in the game. Butler has yet to show multiple counter moves when his original rush is stifled, often relying upon brute force rather than having a secondary plan.
What are others saying about Vernon Butler:
NFL.com sees Butler as a player that is a bit raw in places, but has one of the highest ceilings among defensive linemen in this draft. They believe he can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 effectively and they liken him to New York Jets lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
CBS Sports is not quite as high on Butler, but do love his combination of lower body athleticism and upper body power. They are big on his relentless playing style and compare him to New York Giants lineman Johnathan Hankins.
Where are mock drafts selecting Butler?
According to the most recent mock drafts available, Butler has about a 15-20% chance of getting selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The most likely home for Spence is at #25 with the Pittsburgh Steelers (7.4%). He is also listed in "others" categories for Buffalo at #19, Washington at #21, Houston at #22, and Denver at #31.
My prediction is Butler getting snapped up by a team that is in desperate need of help on the defensive line. Among other teams, Buffalo shows a pressing need for a player of his services.
I expect Butler to be selected with the #19 pick of the first round by Buffalo.