2016 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Louisiana Tech DT Vernon Butler

As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.

One of the more polarizing players in this year’s draft. Defensive tackle Vernon Butler.

#9 – Vernon Butler/DL Louisiana Tech: 6037, 325

The Good

– 34 1/8 arms, 83 1/2 wingspan
– Great footwork, few wasted steps
– Excellent balance
– Vision usually consistent on ballcarrier
– Surprisingly great short-area burst and first step
– Quick to engage hands
– Has played 1t, 3t, t, 7t
– Stout against double teams
– Good hip discipline on outside of line

The Bad

– Ducks his head when making head-on contact, loses sight of ball carrier
– Engages with high pads at times
– Endurance questions, slows down late in games
– Doesn’t pass rush with a plan, try to carry out moves
– Fails to wrap up tackles in space
– Inconsistent, streaky motor
– Pad level usually too high
– Doesn’t have the footwork to pull off a spin move
– Doesn’t run plays down from behind, play through the whistle


– Accepted Louisiana Tech over Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Memphis and Louisiana-Lafayette
– Senior year, totaled 50 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 2 PD and 1 FR. Junior year was statistically better in almost every category: 54 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR and 1 FF
– Played four years, 49 games
– First Team All-Conference USA 2015
– Received high school letters in football, basketball and track at North Pike (Summit, Miss.) High School

Tape Breakdown

Men as big as Butler should not move like that. Lined up at 3t, Butler swims over the right tackle (current Panther and fourth-round selection Daryl Williams). He keeps his eyes up and his vision on the RB, stays clean and makes the tackle. This is a 320+ pound war daddy, folks. Agility and quickness like this are rare.

Butler is the 3t on the right side now. He beats LG Adam Shead with another curt arm-over move. Notice how quick and sudden he is, with his eyes in the backfield the whole time. Once free, he accelerates quickly with some remarkable short-area burst to put a hit on the QB. Tremendous athleticism from Butler.

Butler recognizes the pulling guard and adjusts to hit that marginally open gap. From there, Butler uses his short-area quickness to close on the RB in a flash. The result is him being one-on-one in space with the RB. He doesn’t make the tackle (because no man of his size should theoretically be able to make that kind of readjustment in the backfield according to physics), but this disruption is key to the play only going for a short gain. However, if you can get both hands on his back, you have to finish this play. Disruption does not equal production, and the impact for both is not the same.

Butler has tremendous athleticism in not only upper and lower body bend, but in raw strength. This is just a simple bullrush, putting the OL on skates and pushing him into Brandon Doughty’s lap.

However, Butler does have clear instances of pass rushing without a plan. He gets a bad jump on the snap, and then tries to compensate with a very half-hearted weak bullrush. That’s not going to fly in the NFL where offensive linemen anchor better than a naval fleet.

What Butler lacks is pass rushing with a plan. It’s one thing to go out and attempt to bullrush an OG into the QB. It’s another to begin a bullrush and peter out halfway through. Butler lacks a lot of NFL-level counter and pass rush moves, and it shows. His bag of tricks is very small, and it’s a repertoire that will need to swell by the professional ranks. If he doesn’t know what he’s going to choose as a move going into a play, he’s not going to have any success rushing the passer. I saw this repeatedly on tape, so please don’t take it as an isolated incident, either.


For a long time in college, Vernon Butler has won on sheer athleticism and power alone. It’s hard to match up with him against the run, where his swim move is as devastating as can be against poor slow college offensive linemen. Against the pass, if he’s able to set his feet on a bullrush, he’ll be a force.

However, there’s more to this dancing bear than just that. Butler lacks more general coaching, which is evident in his use of hands and moves. It’s not that Butler lacks in those categories, it’s just that he’s never had any real training in how to use them. He’s extremely raw but his natural athleticism and short-area burst mean he can win battles as is. When trained in NFL techniques, he could really be dominant.

However, that’s not going to happen overnight. Don’t be fooled by the flashy plays bursting through the line into the backfield, that probably won’t work consistently against NFL-caliber offensive line and athletes. Instead, Butler needs to work on tools that bolster and work with his athleticism, instead of trying to win with one or the other. He also needs to work on finishing plays better. I saw far too many low-effort snaps jogging a play down from behind or not being able to complete a tackle for loss.

Even at his size, his ridiculous athleticism means Butler could play anywhere on the line. I think he’s best suited long-term at nose tackle, but defensive end in a 3-4 is easily within his abilities right now. He doesn’t have the pad level to hold up against double teams for the moment, so it seems as though a beginning at end before being moved inside will best suit him. Right now I have Butler as a second round grade, but with a dominant combine performance he could see his name rise into Day One.

Projection: Second Round

Games Watched: Arkansas State, at Western Kentucky, at Oklahoma (2014)

Previous Player Profiles
Hunter HenryEli AppleLaquon TreadwellDadi NicolasKendall Fuller
Deion JonesJihad WardKevin PetersonVonn BellMichael Caputo
Andrew BillingsMackensie AlexanderTyler ErvinAustin BlytheChris Jones
Sheldon RankinsNoah SpenceJordan JenkinsYannick NgakoueDarian Thompson
Bryce WilliamsCre’von LeblancHenry Krieger-CobleLeonard FloydJosh Garnett
Kevin HoganCorey ColemanShaq LawsonAustin JohnsonDeAndre Houston-Carson
William Jackson III

About the Author

Luc Polglaze
If it's not about football, it's about music. Colorado born and raised, living in DC now.
  • PittsburghSports

    Interesting take. One of my favorite players in the draft, but I wish he was just a little bit taller. He was fun to watch at the Senior Bowl. Him and Jihad Ward stood out among a VERY talented group. I do wish he was a better pash rusher though. It’ll be interesting seeing where all these defensive lineman come off the board on draft day. I have him as a 1st rd pick, and if we’re looking for a DE in rd 1, I have him and Chris Jones from Miss St, and that’s it.

  • PittsburghSports

    Forgot to mention his swim move reminds me of Tuitt’s.

  • Michael James

    I have exactly the same two DL for our first round! Would be happy with either Butler or Jones. Jones is so underrated, it’s criminal. I honestly don’t know how Dave could watch his tape and conclude with a late 3rd round grade, that’s complete bs. He is explosive, strong, athletic and can rush the passer better than most of the other DE. Right now Jones would be my dream pick in rd 1.

  • Ernest

    He would be my plan b to Andrew Billings.

  • The Notorious TOM

    Gee whiz, why pick LTU over Ole Miss or Miss St.?? Major drop off in conferences(and campuses)

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    And I’m sure he didn’t get near the same level of coaching or facilities at such a small school. If he’s intelligent he can be coached up. I like him.

  • The Notorious TOM

    Very weird, he’s from Mississippi too so you’d think it’d be a no brainer that he’d pick one of the SEC schools if they came for him.

  • PittsburghSports

    Yup. Adolphus Washington and Jihad Ward are not too far behind. I really hope we come out of the draft with 1 of the 4, although I’m not sure where Robert Nkemdiche falls because of his character concerns, and some like A’Shawn Robinson, but he seems more like a run stuffing DT. I also like Bronson Kaufusi, although he’s an edge guy, but if he could add weight like Brett Keisel did he’d be a nice addition that proved he can get after the QB.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    True, sometimes something just clicks when they visit a particular campus. Maybe there was some sort of family legacy or his best friend went there?. It’s probably cost him some money. After watching some of the film provided here I think he might be best served by dropping 15 lbs and playing 5 tech instead of adding 15+ and staying inside.

  • PittsburghSports

    A lot of people think he’s a 1st rd pick, so not sure how much money it cost him.

  • 58Steel

    See my reply to your comment on Butler (on the Garnett thread). I mentioned Chris Jones in there as well. I think we’re essentially on the same page. I’m torn in that while Butler and Jones fill a specific need, I’m not quite sold on them as 1st rounders. But they won’t be there when we pick in the 2nd.

    Could be a situation where a trade down pays off. If the “special talents” are gone, we could gain a pick. With the depth at DL, and some good 2nd round talent at S, come away with, say, Butler, Garnett, and Thompson, or Jones, Bell, Vannett, I’d be more than alright with that.

  • Alex Kozora

    Could be that La Tech was offering a full ride while other schools were only partial, something to that affect.

  • Luc Polglaze

    Yep, Kenneth Dixon is from Arkansas and chose Louisiana Tech over LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Arkansas State

  • Michael James

    After watching a lot of tape from this years DL class these past few days I really think Jones should be rated way higher than he actually is. Kid has (in my opinion) the highest upside of any DL in this class and that says a lot, because there are so many great prospects this year. But Jones is just so explosive, strong and also flashes a repertoire of pass rushing moves. His tape is excellent. For my part, I would love him as our first round pick. I would be ok with Butler, too, but I think he isn’t as naturally gifted as Jones.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Well, if a team rates him and an Alabama guy equally the ‘bama guy probably gets picked first. And then you never know where the next team that values him is picking. Just my 2 cents.

  • PittsburghSports

    Every year I wanna trade back and grab those 2nd rounders. Never happens.

  • taztroy43

    Him, jones, or billings…..Billings is my #1 out of the 3

  • 58Steel

    Well let’s hope Jones doesn’t “blow up” the combine. With the depth of the DL prospects, he could slip down.

  • 58Steel

    1st time for everything?

  • 58Steel

    FWIW, PFF has Jones as #8 on their big board right now

  • LucasY59

    Interesting guy, I like that he would be position versatile. I don’t think he is a guy I would target in the 1st, but definitely a possibility in the 2nd

    I think the top 30 (maybe even 40) guys that I think the Steelers should be targeting are all really good, and because of that the 1st and 2nd pick will be a tougher decision (they will have make a choice of multiple guys available) It is a good problem to have.

  • LucasY59

    I think there might be some trade bait available when the Steelers pick at #25, a QB or WR, maybe RB or LT? guys the Steelers arent really looking for, so they are willing to move back (because there will be multiple guys that they are actually interested in that are also available, and the risk of trading is low, since they will still get the guy they like)

  • LucasY59

    Kaufusi comparison because they both went to BYU? jk I agree Beard wasnt that heavy at DE, and is one of the better pass rushers the Steelers have ever had at the 5 tech position.

    Kaufusi looks like he could add some weight, and could be a decent edge guy in the sub package (if he doesnt add 10lbs)

  • PittsburghSports

    Yeah it’s a cheesy BYU comparison, but it’s not too far off either.

  • Izach

    Felt like the 1st example gif wasnt entirely accurate.
    He doesn’t swim the RT he gets out positioned by the TE #10 on a run play. He’s literally guesses wrong and it leads to a first down.