The Buffalo Bills’ defense was inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts weren’t able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler.
Vernon Butler was recruited by SEC schools like Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kentucky but chose to attend Louisiana Tech, where he’d play for four years in the Conference-USA. In his three years as a starter, Butler recorded 148 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Vernon Butler is one of the more intriguing draft prospects in a class loaded with defensive linemen. His combination of size, power and movement skills are rare and coveted by NFL teams, but Butler is very much a work in progress. As a senior in 2015, Butler recorded 50 tackles, 10 for a loss and three sacks. ProFootballFocus credited him with 35 quarterback pressures and RealSportsNetwork credited him with 12 “stuffs” and 33 run disruptions.
Vernon Butler Size/ Physical Attributes
Vernon Butler measured in at 6’4” and 323 pounds at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. Butler has a thick frame and a compact lower body with ridiculously long arms (35 1/8”) and massive hands (10 ¾”) that allow him to control opposing linemen. On tape, Butler plays fast and explosive, but his workout at the combine didn’t match up with his film, posting a 7.82 second time on the three-cone drill and a 4.76 on the 20-yard shuttle. His 29.5” vertical leap and 8’8” broad jump were among the shortest at his position.
In the following clip against Rice, Vernon Butler shows no hesitation when looping around the offensive line on a stunt, redirecting when the quarterback steps up in the pocket to change direction and make the sack.
Vernon Butler Run Defense
Vernon Butler played all over Louisiana Tech’s defensive line—as a shaded nose tackle, as well as the one, three and five techniques. He’s got an extremely quick first step off the ball and his length and power make it a tough assignment for a lineman to effectively reach block him in the run game. Butler has incredible play strength and knows how to use his long arms to not only push and collapse the offensive line, but also to create distance between himself and the defender to maintain leverage while chasing down running backs.
In the following play Vernon Butler fires off the ball and works down the line of scrimmage before avoiding the reach block and shooting the gap. He can’t wrap up the running back but his disruption of the play already helped get his teammates in a position to make a play for a loss.
When asked to align directly over a center, guard, or tackle as a two-gap defender, Butler shows the ability to dig his heels in the dirt, sink his hips and anchor against a double team without surrendering any ground. He can literally control the line of scrimmage and allow his teammates to swarm to the ball.
This power is shown again here as Vernon Butler physically moves his man out of the gap, providing a clear lane for the linebacker to fill.
Vernon Butler has a tendency to miss a lot of tackles in the run game, as he’ll violently work his way into the backfield only to whiff on a tackle or look flat out lost. You love to see Butler’s aggressiveness and disruption, but he needs to refine his technique so that his production can align with his raw talent. Here against Kansas State, Vernon Butler gets too high out of his stance and leaves his gap while trying to squeeze into the backfield. He’s easily knocked to the ground and the running back has a huge lane to pick up about 20 yards.
This happens again vs. Western Kentucky. Vernon Butler shoots the gap and is in position to record a huge tackle for loss, but he can’t wrap up and the running back gets back to the line of scrimmage.
Vernon Butler Pass Rush
As a pass rusher, Vernon Butler wins with initial burst and power. His first step is often too much for a lineman and he does a good job using his length to prevent blockers from getting their hands in his pads.
Once Butler is engaged with a lineman, he doesn’t stop driving his legs and has the power to overwhelm them with a bullrush.
Butler is a violent player and knows how to maximize his size and length by utilizing a “push and pull” move against linemen that just embarrasses his opponents. In the next play against Kansas State, Vernon Butler gives a stutter step off the snap to set up the guard. The guard can’t get his hands up in time and Butler just bench presses him backwards, only to violently rip him backwards and delivering a hit on the quarterback just after.
At the Senior Bowl, Butler showed that he could manhandle more talented competition, dominating in the one-on-one drills. Here, he mauls Willie Beavers, beating him for a sack by just outmuscling him.
Butler isn’t all power though, as he shows the ability to use an arm over and a swim move from the nose tackle position to split the center and guard and shoot into the backfield.
Here, he shows his speed and short area quickness with a loop around Mississippi State’s offensive line.
Just like in the run game, Vernon Butler can get overaggressive with his pass rush and whiff on should-be sacks or find himself several yards away from the quarterback by taking poor angles. He has the physical tools to dominate almost anybody that lines up in front of him, but without proper technique, his aggressiveness will be used against him at the next level.
Butler needs to be coached to maintain his gap responsibility and play with a plan. Too often he’ll do whatever it takes to beat the lineman, but ultimately has no result on the play. This reckless, freelancing style is a big part of why a player with Butler’s physical gifts was only able to manage five sacks over the course of three years as a starter.
He does have a never-ending motor, and will look to get his hands up in a passing lane when he can’t get around or through a block.
Potential Fit With Buffalo Bills
Vernon Butler is the type of player that a defensive line coach will salivate over. He has the size, movement skills and power to be a wrecking ball on the interior, but needs to clean up his game to be a truly dominant player. Vernon Butler projects to all three positions on the Bills’ defensive line—nose tackle, three technique and five-technique defensive end, so he’d be a player to keep an eye on. He’s been compared to a former Rex Ryan draft pick in Muhammed Wilkerson for his length, power and lateral agility, but Butler may be a bit bigger. Nonetheless, Vernon Butler is one of the more physically intriguing players within a deep defensive line group in the 2016 NFL Draft.