The departure of Steve McLendon leaves a hole in the Pittsburgh Steelers' depth chart at the defensive tackle position. We took a look at the next defensive tackle in line for the team in Dan McCullers last week and whether he could be the next to take over the position, but even if Kevin Colbert thinks he could be the answer, adding to the depth of the defensive line is most likely a concern.
Finding a player that will be physical at the line of scrimmage and bring chaos is always a plus, which makes Vernon Butler, defensive tackle from Louisiana Tech, a candidate for Pittsburgh to consider.
Butler comes into this draft after his senior season which he posted three sacks and ten tackles for loss. His 6'4" 323lbs. frame makes for an intimidating figure at the line of scrimmage capable of plowing through offensive linemen and deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage.
His upper body strength made him a constant problem for offensive linemen in the NCAA and made him a persistent threat to grab ball carriers within his long reach.
We take a look at some of his film before the draft.
Fights through blocks on extended plays
This is an example of how Butler does not give up on a play and has a consistent effort to go after the quarterback. On this play he twists to the outside, drawing the attention of the tackle and dodging an attempted chop block until he gets his hands on the quarterback. Once he gets someone in his grasp he is difficult to escape, as Rice's quarterback found this out all too late.
Can control the line of scrimmage
While some scouts may say that Butler's footwork and inconsistent low pad level are liabilities, his pure strength made up for that throughout most of his collegiate career. Here he shoves the guard so far into the backfield that it disrupts the play enough to disrupt to open up a gap for the middle linebacker to have a one-on-one rendezvous with the running back in the backfield. Butler manages to get his hands inside of the guard and control him from the beginning of the play and throughout.
Strong pass rush skills
Here is another example of how Butler uses his hands to move offensive linemen out of the way from his path to the quarterback. In the NFL Butler will face stronger offensive linemen and professionals who won't be shoved so easily, but his strength is exemplary of a powerful athlete.
Butler looked great in the Senior Bowl
When up against the top players from around the country, Butler still showed he was able to be destructive enough to go through interior linemen and create plays behind the line of scrimmage. Notice how much like the other plays, Butler uses his powerful arms and long reach to create separation and continue to drive him back into the quarterback. He forces a fumble on this play after controlling the guard the whole way back.
Butler's potential needs refinement
Our review of McCullers' tape created the narrative that showed how his physical frame allows for him to be imposing but without the proper consistent technique, much like Butler. However what looks to be an extreme difference between the two is how Butler uses his hands when engaged with offensive linemen and how much more tenacious he is in his efforts.
Butler should be much less of a project than McCullers was as a rookie with his natural ability to rush the quarterback and drive offensive linemen into their own running backs. In the NFL he will need to show more consistency at lowering his pad level and showing solid leg drive, but he looks to be similar to Stephon Tuitt's tape. Butler's skills look to be exciting for the Steelers as a player that could rotate between nose tackle, a four-front defensive tackle and 3-4 defensive end.
His versatility as a pass rusher and his play against the run would make for a solid player to add to Pittsburgh's defense, but the questions as to him being drafted by the Steelers involve a ton of speculation as to when he would be available.
Many prospect lists place Butler as an early second round selection, which means that unless Pittsburgh trades around, that their best opportunity to select him may just be in the first round with their 25th overall pick. We all know the Steelers will go for the best player available with their spot, but Butler being the best player available may not be a reality. For one, should the team see the like of Andrew Billings slip to their pick much like how Bud Dupree did last season, it seems very likely that he would come before Butler. However if Billings or no other superstar candidate is available at 25, look for the Steelers to go after a strong player to add to their defensive front rather than taking a chance on a cornerback that is not real first round material.