The Buffalo Bills continue to add players to their roster, coming to terms with former Carolina Panthers first-round pick Vernon Butler. The massive defensive tackle is the latest in a long line of former Carolina players taking the McBeane Express to continue their careers in Orchard Park. One noticeable theme when general manager Brandon Beane goes to work is that he looks to find market inefficiencies.
These inefficiencies could come in the form of various injuries that prevented a player from showing their true skill set. It could be they were not in the right system or were too slow to develop. Or, the team just did not have space for them anymore from a financial standpoint.
Looking at Butler overall and his injury history, I believe that several injuries held him back, along with the fact that defensive tackle is a position not everyone can plug and play in immediately. Below is Butler’s injury history and my analysis of how he may fare in Buffalo.
Drafted 30th overall out of Louisiana Tech, Butler appeared in ten games as a rookie, starting none. He suffered a hand injury in the preseason, but did not miss any games. Several weeks later, he suffered a high-ankle sprain that cost him five games before returning to finish out the season. According to reports, it was due to a teammate rolling up on his ankle while Butler was making a tackle. Later in the article, he said it was minor. Butler was later inactive in Week 12 against the Oakland Raiders.
High-ankle sprains are the result of a foot that is in dorsiflexion and in a fixed position receiving a blow to the foot/ankle complex that forcefully externally rotates the foot. This can happen getting hit low while the foot is planted or when someone is rolled upon in a pile following a tackle.
High-ankle sprains can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to heal, though some time can be shaved off if it is truly minor. Other times, as in the case of Cincinnati Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green, it can be more complicated and last much longer. Butler was unable to rush back, unable to demonstrate the ability to push off the ankle effectively to drive forward due to the instability within the ankle.
Butler appeared in 14 games, starting none. Outside of a late preseason knee injury that cost Butler a Week 1 appearance, he was able to play in every game outside of Week 5. The knee injury appeared to be just a sprain, and he appeared to miss Week 5 as a healthy scratch.
Butler played in 14 games, starting none. He did not suffer any reported injuries during this time, but he was a healthy scratch during Weeks 13 and 14.
Butler played in 14 games, starting nine. He suffered a back injury midway through the season along with an illness late in December, but those did not cost him any games. He did miss Weeks 1 and 2 as a healthy scratch.
Butler appears to be a player who just hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft spot. He is a player who has been relatively healthy outside of minor back and knee injuries along with the high ankle sprain his rookie year. He will be 26 going into the 2020 season, so his ceiling is hopefully nowhere near where he has produced at this time.
Injury wise, there isn’t much concern moving forward. He plays a very physically demanding position where sprains, strains, and contusions are just part of the action. There is always a chance that he could re-injure his ankle, but it’s quite difficult to prevent someone from rolling up on you. This regime has certainly taken more risks on other players with far more extensive injury histories than Butler.
Butler’s second chance in Buffalo may be because he’s still young and that Beane was part of the group that drafted him. Something made him worth picking him in the first round; it’s possible that he hasn’t tapped that potential yet. Either way, it is slightly concerning that he has had just as many healthy scratches as missed games due to injury.
He may realize this is a second chance to prolong his young career. He certainly shores up the defensive tackle position and provides much-needed help at a position with top-end talent, but drops off hard with depth.