You read the title correctly. We touched earlier in the week on whether or not second year cornerback Darius Butler will have any major contributions against the Vikings. The general consensus is that people want Butler to see the field. I hope that he can make the field and play well and I hope that the coaching staff is starting to put more faith in his ability. However, I was wondering if there's something about Butler, as a player, that makes him the wrong type of cornerback for this football team. Maybe there's a reason why he hasn't been playing.
Let's take a look.
I performed a search to find what scouts thought of Butler as he entered the 2009 NFL Draft. From CBS Sports, to NFL.com to SBNation's own Mocking the Draft, there was some similar themes amongst all of the reports. Maybe these evaluations will shed some light on the type of player Butler is expected to be.
Did not allow any touchdowns on 43 passes targeted into his area, as his main pass coverage assignments caught just a total of six of those passes for 106 yards, as Butler delivered thirteen third-down stops and one more on forth down vs. the pass.
Run Defense: While Butler shows good aggression and tackling form vs. the run, he is better playing off the perimeter or when getting a clear lane than when working inside the box. Due to size issues, he is generally bounced around and walled off when trying to fill the rush lanes. He will not hesitate to hit, but even though he can break down and take good angles to the ball, he will never be a factor working along the line (much better suited for perimeter action). With added bulk, he can perhaps be more effective in attempts to drive up and contain. Still, you have to like his effort. GRADE: 5.5
Let's start off with some good things. Butler was a stellar defender in college- there's no way around that. He was a lockdown corner all season and even held Kenny Britt, the wide receiver who is lighting up the league for the Titans, to 3 receptions and a little over 50 yards, with 3 passes defended. He was clutch on 3rd down and was able to defend an entire side of the field. For some reason, that success against #1 receivers in college did not translate to success covering #1 receivers in the NFL. Surprise, surprise.
Looking at his (non)performance against the run game, the review states that Butler struggled against the run in college due to his small frame and his inability to be physical at the line. On a team where every player is expected to do everything, not being able to play one facet of the defense is a sure-fired way to get benched, especially when there's a physical corner right behind you in the depth chart.
Find out the rest of the results after the jump.
Negatives: Very lanky with thin hips. ... Not particularly strong on the line or able to get off blocks. ... Bit of a duck-and-swipe tackler. ... Does not always play to timed speed, as quicker receivers can get separation downfield. ... Can get pushed off easily by bigger, stronger receivers. ... Allows too much cushion in off man coverage. ... Missed the final two regular-season games in 2008 with a knee sprain.
Looking at the NFL.com report, there's a lot of the same. Butler can't disengage from blocks. He cannot help at the line. He isn't a sure tackler. He's a liability in the run game and is definitely a liability down the field after the completion.
Faster receivers can create distance. Bigger receivers can create distance. Allows too much cushion in off man coverage. Oh dear. What receiver is he left to cover? He can't play in the slot due to his inability to stick with the fast receivers. He can't cover the #1 receiver because they're too physical for him (Don't the performances by Chad Ochocinco and Braylon Edwards make much more sense?). He leaves too much space in coverage, a clear issue that everyone has touched upon.
If Butler can't play in the slot, or play a #1 receiver, that leaves only one real option- let Butler cover the #2 receiver.
Weaknesses: Could get stronger to play bump-and-run coverage better. Struggles some in run coverage because his lack of size. Doesn’t have blazing speed and has trouble catching up when he gets beaten. Not much of a tackler and prefers to drag down ball carriers.
Here's some more of the same. He's not a physical corner. He's not helpful against the run. He's not good at covering speed receivers. He struggles at making tackles. If he drags down his opposing wide receivers, that means that they're getting 3-4 yards after the catch more than if he was able to take them down physically and immediately. What's important in this defense? Preventing the yards after the catch. Where does Butler struggle? In stopping the yards after the catch.
Weaknesses: Needs to put forth more effort against the run ... Soft tackler and needs to do a better job of reading an opponent's hips, key in, and explode through in regards to tackling technique ... Should have produced more interceptions; ball skills need to be closely evaluated ... Lacks awareness in zone.
Player Comparison: Asante Samuel. Same build. Similar skill set, but Samuel has better ball skills, which Butler can improve.
And there you have it. Weak against the run. Weak as a tackler. Weak at making plays on the ball. Low awareness in zone defense. It's all been said before. He needs to be more physical of a player. He needs to be smarter when he's on the field. He needs to completely change his style of play in order to produce in this defense.
Oh, and the nail in the coffin: Player Comparison- Asante Samuel. Enough said.
So where are we left with Butler? Here's a recap.
Weak against the run.
Weak against speedy slot receivers.
Weak against big, strong, #1 receivers.
Weak at tackling.
Compares to Asante Samuel.
Let's look at the type of player that the Patriots expected Butler to be. In 2007, the Patriots had Asante Samuel, the ball-hawking, big play letting up corner and Ellis Hobbs III, another big play letting up corner. However, both players were fast, both players made plays on the ball and both helped generate turnovers for the defense. This is the defense the Patriots had that brought them to the Super Bowl.
In 2008, the Patriots featured Deltha O'Neal and Hobbs at cornerback. The draft also featured Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley. This defense was built to perform the same was as the 2007 defense- big play makers who will give up a play every once in a while. Unfortunately for this defense, they gave up the big play quite frequently. Still the Patriots had committed to Wilhite and Wheatley as players of the future. Sadly, according to some draft sites, Wheatley compared to Hobbs coming out of college. Wilhite was said to be terrible in run support and had awful coverage instincts. Neither of them are tall players. Both were touted as athletic players, where their upside was directly related to their athletic ability, not ability on the field. None of these factors, in hindsight, are good indicators of a solid cornerback.
Looking now, neither Wheatley or Wilhite seemed like the best fit for a "bend-don't-break" defense. They're big risk, big opportunity players in the mold of Samuel and Hobbs, which is not indicative of consistent players.
Now look at Butler. Notice anything similar? Weak against the run. His upside was related to his athletic ability. He was compared to Samuel. Yeah. Butler is in the same mold at Wheatley and Wilhite. And Samuel and Hobbs.
Those aren't good signs.
Butler is a draft pick from an "era" with a defensive mentality much different than it is today. He was drafted in a period where the Patriots were looking for athletic corners with high potential as ball hawks. Unfortunately, the Patriots decided to utilize the bend-don't-break defense once they realized how inexperienced the secondary was- out of the corners who played (Butler, Wilhite, Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden), only Wilhite had experience in the defense and only had one season of experience. Butler and Wilhite are two squares trying to fit into the Patriots circular defense- they defend in their box, when the defense is really all supposed to be working together.
The Patriots definitely shifted their mentality in this past draft, selecting Devin McCourty, a complete corner who was great against the run and was smart against the pass. They wanted a transformation to the bend-don't-break and McCourty was a player they could pass up. He had the skill set, while Butler and the other cornerbacks were learning to play corner the Patriot way for the first time in their football careers. McCourty didn't give up the big play in order to try and make one on his own. Butler needed to learn to play football in that style.
Now, let's look back to Butler. He's a player who plays football in big risk/big reward manner, who cannot cover slot receivers or big receivers and who cannot stop the run. Of course he's going to get benched.
Butler is highly athletic, but for right now Kyle Arrington is a better fit for the defense. Arrington is just as bad as Butler in coverage (both give way too much of a cushion to receivers), but at least Arrington is strong against the run. As soon as Butler can fix a facet of his game, he'll start seeing the field more frequently- but until then, he's going to stay on the bench.