New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler earned his first Pro Bowl nod, capping off an incredible 365 days. After saving the Super Bowl with a clutch interception, Butler set out to prove that he wouldn't be a one-hit wonder. He's doing a very good job.
The departure of cornerback Darrelle Revis led Butler to assume the role as top cornerback on the depth chart and while he's not yet at the level of Revis, Butler has exceeded all expectations.
"Malcolm has come a long way on and off the field, as a professional, as a professional football player," head coach Bill Belichick said. "He's worked really hard at it, and I think everybody respects him for it. He didn't come from some big Division I program, big Heisman Trophy winner or anything like that."
Most draft prospects from small schools see a hit in their draft stock, purely because scouts question the level of competition. Belichick likes to sift through the footage and meet the player to see how they can adjust to the coaching at the next level.
"You see a lot of talented players at a lower level of competition," Belichick said about the Patriots scouting. "But then when the competition changes and it's a little more equal, are they really able to compete at that next level? Do they have the competitiveness, the drive, the whatever it is to go out there and outwork and outcompete and out-tough the guy that has just as much talent as they do versus just being better than everybody else and going out there and just being themselves but they're just better than everybody else. That doesn't really last."
Butler has shown the tenacity to compete with the top players like Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. on a weekly basis. He won't let any player get in his head and he won't let his performance on one play affect his production over the rest of the game.
Small school players come from an array of playbooks, from simple defenses to complicated schemes, and these are out of the player's control. A player has to capitalize on the opportunities presented, and when you look at the whole package, Butler's ability to perform week-in and week-out is what draws raves reviews from Belichick.
"So there is the on the field, there is the talent and I'd say there is the overall program and being a professional, being a solid, dependable consistent player, which is what all great players are - they're consistent," Belichick said. "They're not just making one play. Those guys aren't the great players. They might have highlight plays, but the great players are the ones who can sustain it over a game, over several games, over seasons. Those are the guys who stand out."
Butler has certainly been standing out this season and the league is taking notice. Jets head coach Todd Bowles called Butler one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and opposing teams are deterred from even throwing in his direction.
"He's humble, works hard, tries to get better, makes mistakes," Belichick said about Butler's growth this year. "There are a lot of things he can do better, but he works hard to get them better and he corrects them and I think everybody that's on our team or around our team respects that."
Butler is quickly winning the respect of players around the league. It's been a long journey for the small school prospect, and it's one that's far from over.