I have never been a scout or a NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
Now that we are about three months into this process and have covered almost all of the names that are continuously mentioned in the 2016 draft, it is wonderful to stumble upon a prospect who is considerably better than I first thought. There is no question that the big school guys get the first wave of excitement, but anyone who has followed this draft season knows that there was an uncommon level of quality at Louisiana Tech this year.
We have covered the running back Kenneth Dixon and we will get to quarterback Jeff Driskel before we run out of time. But today, let's study a guy who will be selected before either one of them and simply add another top-quality stud to the list of defensive tackles who populate the top 50 in this draft. This is the case of big Vernon Butler, a massive defensive tackle who seems capable of playing anywhere you want up and down the defensive line and, despite weighing in at 323, still possesses initial quickness and strength that makes him rather unstoppable in the middle of the line.
On top of all of these fine characteristics, Louisiana Tech played enough top-level competition that we were able to view him against Mississippi State, Kansas State and a few other big programs and big offensive line prospects during his four years in school -- as well as his Senior Bowl week -- to feel great that he is not just whipping minnows. He is handling the big boys at the big schools, too.
What I liked: He is just such a terror up front and has no real issues with any part of his skill set. First, he is powerful, and this means that any guard or center on the inside is overmatched by his push. He collapses the pocket or ruins running plays with great regularity. Next, he has uncommonly long arms for this position and body size, so now when he gets the arms extended, there is no way to neutralize his leverage, and before long the offensive line is on roller skates right back into the lap of the quarterback. Then, he has this quick burst that powers him past guys with an initial move in one direction, and finally, he has technique where it appears he offers an array of moves to free himself. He must be double-teamed or he will ruin your game and on top of all of this, he seems pretty emotional and into the proceedings, which isn't always clear and obvious when you are talking about the big guys in the middle. In short, I really like this player.
What I did not like: I am not sure I can come up with much. I guess, you would say that if he is so great, why doesn't he have more than five sacks in three seasons, but then you watch him play and see that he is in the quarterback's face constantly, and even that issue is mitigated by the idea that defensive tackles are not going to sneak up on a quarterback. Instead, the quarterback is in some self-preservation mode, so I am not fixating on that issue at all. He was double-teamed so much and this doesn't help his personal stats, but it certainly helps the rest of his team. Other than that? I don't have much on the negative side to offer.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: This is a class with a number of defensive tackles who could go in the first round. Some are not going to do much damage in the offensive backfield, but a few -- Sheldon Rankins and Vernon Butler -- appear to be exactly that type of rare bird that weighs 300-plus pounds and can still do damage on the move. These ridiculous athletes remind me of similar studies on Fletcher Cox and Aaron Donald in previous drafts where it was clear to anyone watching their college tape that they were going to be stars at the next level. Now, Rankins is nice, but Butler weighs a full 20 pounds more than the Louisville kid and still may be a better athlete. He is not going to chase down any running backs from behind but when it comes to moving in tight spaces and having those "dancing bear" or "war daddy" characteristics that every team dreams of -- regardless of scheme or spot -- I would offer the clear feelings that Butler is one of the best 15 or so prospects I have looked at in this entire field.
Now, that doesn't mean that the player go that high because there are so many strong defensive tackles in this draft -- and all could slide because of the deep quality -- but if the Cowboys can somehow draft with this player in the late first or with their pick at No. 34, any fan should be thrilled. He has to prove that he can be a real star a the NFL level like those before him, but I don't see too much that will prevent him from being a force on any defensive line.