The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
First Round – Vernon Butler, DT (Louisiana Tech, No. 30 overall)
While Butler is certain to play an important role in the defensive tackle rotation this year, his arrival holds even further importance. With the first round pick showing flashes in camp, the Panthers have not yet embraced the idea of giving right defensive tackle Kawann Short the long-term deal the player wants. They could let Short walk after the season, if Butler shows he is ready to step in and contribute this season.
Before his junior season, Tech coaches were seriously considering moving Butler to the offensive line – reasoning that his burst off the snap might be a better fit trap blocking from the guard position. Instead, they kept him on the D-Line and watched his draft stock soar.
Butler is a highly competitive sort who relishes his role as the defense’s “garbage man,” taking on multiple blockers constantly to free up a fellow Bulldog defender to make the play. He is simply unstoppable when he charges through the gaps and uses his hands with tremendous force when facing constant double teams. Some scouts were concerned about his gas tank late in games, but he worked hard during the 2015 offseason to get his weight down in order to eliminate his “tired legs” issue.
His strength at the point of attack is one of his best assets, as I have yet to see any blocker, or blockers, capable of riding him out once he anchors and establishes position in the trenches. He doesn’t use his violent hand punch as much as he should, but he can easily obliterate any blocker once he gets his hands into their body. He is the type that will rarely ever get bounced around by double teams, thanks to his overall strength and ability to remain at a low pad level. With his big, strong hands, body mass and aggression, Butler excels at shutting down the interior running game.