Laugh at Vanderbilt’s seemingly perennial status as an SEC bye week if you want (the James Franklin “era” notwithstanding), they’ve cranked out a few NFL-caliber talents as of late. Save the Jay Cutler jokes: here’s a few from the last few years.
Linebacker Zach Cunningham (2nd round pick, 2017 - HOU)
Wide Receiver Jordan Matthews (2nd round pick, 2014 - PHI, currently with BUF)
Cornerback Casey Hayward (2nd round pick, 2012, GB - currently one of Pro Football Focus’s fave corners with the Los Angeles Chargers)
Add undrafted rookie defensive tackle Adam Butler to that list.
Before we get into why, though, you absolutely must check out this gem about Vandy’s Pro Day last year from the Nashville Post’s David Boclair, who’s on a very short list of the best writers in the game covering Music City sports:
On Bill Belichick putting All-American linebacker Zac Cunningham through film study:
“We had a film session,” Cunningham said. “Just being in the same room as a guy that I watched growing up and him asking me questions about our defense and all that was definitely a crazy experience for me.”
Adam Butler, on the other hand, experienced every hopeful NFL player’s worst nightmare with Belichick watching - he screwed up a drill.
Adam Butler tried not to think about it.
He is the first to admit, though, that sometimes he thinks too much.
“Oh my gosh,” said Butler, a former Vanderbilt football standout. “I mean, arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NFL [is here] and I freaking messed up the drill. I couldn’t believe it.”
As luck would have it, Butler, at 6’4’’ and an even 300 lbs, went undrafted - and signed a three-year deal with the New England Patriots less than a week later. And in a prompt reversal of his Pro Day misfortunes, Adam Butler has been one of the best defensive tackles in his rookie class at getting in the quarterback’s face.
And, of course, a sack of last year’s NFL MVP in this year’s Super Bowl rematch.
Butler’s currently got two sacks on the season, which in and of itself is nothing to sneeze at from a Patriots defensive lineman. And on top of that, according to Pro Football Focus, as of last week, Adam Butler led the entire NFL in quarterback pressures by a rookie defensive tackle, with his 16 hurries and 2 sacks on the year combining for a tidy 18 pressures.
What about this week, you say? Glad you asked. Against the Bills on Christmas Eve, New England’s bigger Butler racked up two more hurries against one of the league’s more dangerous running threats, Tyrod Taylor, which was understandably a bit overshadowed by linebacker Marquis Flowers’ breakout “Well, all right then!” two-sack, three-pressure performance. As a unit, New England’s defense made Tyrod Taylor’s life absolutely miserable in the pocket, with Butler pitching in on an effort that sacked Taylor a whopping six times and pressured him almost HALF of his drop-backs (47.8%).
If he’s not still leading the NFL in rookie defensive tackle pressure - and let’s keep in mind that this year’s DT class included Michigan State’s Malik McDowall and Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson - Butler’s right in the mix.
And here’s a shot/chaser for the “WELL THEY STILL NEED TO GET SACKS!” crowd:
Courtesy of our stat man Evan Lazar, New England currently ranks second in the NFL with 22 sacks since Week 11.
Just in time for a time-honored New Year’s tradition in New England: