We have entered the quiet parts of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while mandatory minicamp and training camp won't start until Tuesday and late July, respectively.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we'll take a look at cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Name: Malcolm Butler
Jersey number: 21
Size: 5'11, 190 lbs.
2015 review: While Malcolm Butler was the hero of New England's Super Bowl XLIX-victory, he saw little playing time over the course of his 2014 rookie season. Therefore, one of the major questions entering 2015 was if he would be able to replace free agency-departure Darrelle Revis.
Turned out, he was. While he was not the same lockdown-presence Revis was a year earlier, Butler had a very good first season as the Patriots' top cornerback. One, that even earned him a Pro Bowl birth, and helped the Patriots' field one of the league's best defenses.
His statistics were solid: Butler allowed only 55.3% of passes thrown in his direction to be completed (63 of 114), broke up a team-leading 17 passes, and gave up 940 yards and seven touchdowns, while intercepting 2 attempts. The stats and the 95.7 passer rating Butler allowed are not spectacular, yes, but he did cover opposing number one receivers – mostly on an island – year in and year out.
If all those factors are put into consideration, Butler's 2015 season – during which he played more snaps than any other Patriots defender (99.0%; 1,237 of 1,249) – should be seen as an individual success. And a solid foundation to build upon.
2016 preview: Despite recent reports that Butler would be unhappy about his current contract, which he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014, the 26-year old will be the Patriots' number one cornerback in 2016. The real question is whether or not his growth as a player will continue in his third NFL season.
Given how quickly Butler rose from a bottom of the depth chart player to the best cornerback on one of the NFL's premier teams, it should be expected that his game continues to improve over the course of the summer and throughout the upcoming season. Maybe he won't become the next Ty Law or Darrelle Revis just yet, but steady refinement of his craft should elevate the Pro Bowler to one of the league's top 10 to 15 cornerbacks.
The Patriots will certainly hope it does, considering who Butler is scheduled to play against in 2016: Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders are all projected to be covered by him this season. If New England's number one corner can consistently bring his A-game and compete against some of the league's top pass catchers, the team's defense would have an easier job of slowing down the units they are parts of.
Just like last year, Butler will be an integral part of the Patriots' defense. And, just like last year, he is projected to play close to 100% of the team's snaps.
Malcolm Butler was one of the Patriots' best and most valuable defenders in 2015. If he is able to carry this momentum into his second season as a starter, then Butler could become even more of a complete cornerback than he already is.