With the 30th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech. The Panthers seem to be looking to mask their need in the secondary by making sure the ball never crosses the line of scrimmage. This position wasn’t and certainly still isn’t a big need for this team and there are players available at bigger needs. I suppose the Panthers are sticking ruthlessly to their best player available mentality. Butler is one of the more under the radar first round talents in this draft. Playing for a smaller school he wasn’t in the spotlight very often. When he was, at the Senior Bowl, he impressed everyone there. He has good measurables and the tape to back it up. The Panthers now have an incredibly deep group at the interior defensive line.
After a couple years in a mostly backup role, Butler has been an impressive starter the past two seasons, albeit from the Conference USA. He’s shown though in the post-season that he can play with the best however. Butler is another who, like Rankins, significantly helped himself during senior bowl week, proving impossible to contain during practice drills. He shares a lot of the traits with Austin Johnson mentioned previously, with the same movement ability at that size. Butler shows his athleticism with some impressive leaping ability to bat down passes and effectiveness in pursuit to the sidelines to make plays despite his big body. Butler doesn’t shut down after his initial push on the pocket, always playing to the whistle and hustling to make additional tackles. His primary job though of stuffing the run and eating up space in the middle leads to his good tackle stats with 50 this season and 10 TFLs (13 in 2014). Less impressive among his stats however is just 5 career sacks over his four seasons, with three of those coming this year. He really needs to work on his pad level and leverage, consistently playing far too high out of his stance. His natural power and size has compensated at the college level, but needs to improve to continue to be effective in the pros. He has all the foundations and traits desired though, and in addition can fit into any defensive front and scheme.