The New England Patriots currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the offseason, we take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s defensive tackles.
Name: Adam Butler
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 70
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’4, 300 lbs.
2017 review: After not hearing his name called during the draft, Adam Butler signed a free agent contract with the Patriots. The decision to join the reigning world champions proved to be a good one for the Vanderbilt product, as he adapted well to life in New England and was one of the surprising performers during training camp and preseason. As a result, Butler was able to make the team’s opening day roster.
Not only was the rookie able to survive roster cuts, he also carved out a niche as a pass rushing interior defensive lineman. In that role, Butler appeared in all 16 of the Patriots’ regular season games and played 44.6% of the team’s defensive snaps (473 of 1,060). Butler proved to be a productive and versatile player for New England: lining up on the inside and the edge, he registered 24 total pressures – leading all first-year interior defensive linemen.
His solid regular season allowed Butler to establish himself as New England’s number three defensive tackle behind Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy. And even though his playing time percentage went down during the playoffs – Butler played 23.6% of defensive snaps (51 of 216) –, he still had his moments: the rookie finished the postseason with two sacks and two quarterback hits, the same statistics he registered during the regular season.
All in all, his rookie season can therefore be seen as a successful one: Butler exceeded expectations all year long and was a solid contributor against the pass. And while he still had his fair share of rookie mistakes and must continue working on his run defense to become more than a situational role player, the draft day afterthought was able to build a strong foundation in his first year in the NFL.
2018 preview: The Patriots added some competition to the defensive tackle position this offseason: former third-round draft pick Vincent Valentine returns off injured reserve, while the team also traded for Danny Shelton and signed undrafted rookies Frank Herron and John Atkins. While Shelton is a lock to make the team, the other three players are competing against Butler for practice reps and roster spots.
Given his promising 2017 season, however, it would be a surprise if the team let Butler go after only one year. While he will likely no longer serve as the team’s number three defensive tackle in terms of playing time, he still offers value as a role-specific defender. As such, his usage is projected to look like it did during the playoffs: he will play 20-30% of defensive snaps as a sub-package pass rusher from the interior.
Lowering his snap count and using him more as a rotational piece should help Butler – who slimmed down this offseason – play to his strengths. Consequently, the 24-year old should continue being a solid contributor for the Patriots’ pass defense even if his year-two jump may not be as instantly recognizable as the one of fellow defenders Deatrich Wise Jr. and Derek Rivers.