Historically, the Bills have drafted a player who visited them pre-draft with their first-round pick. Leading up to the draft, we'll be looking at key visitors for Buffalo, to see who makes sense for them at No. 19 overall.
In this look, we're checking out Louisiana Tech defensive lineman Vernon Butler.
Raised in Summit, Mississippi, Butler was a multi-sport athlete at North Pike high school, where he played on the football team, ran track, and was a power forward on the basketball team. Recruited to Louisiana Tech, he played for four seasons, collecting 169 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, and six sacks. The 21-year-old (he turns 22 in June) is set to be the first Louisiana Tech Bulldog to attend the NFL Draft in person.
Standing 6'4" and 323 pounds, with massive 35.6-inch arms and 10.75-inch hands, Butler is a serious space-eater on the defensive line. He's also a good athletic talent, who had a 5.19-second 40-yard dash, a 33.5-inch vertical leap, and a 9'3" broad jump at his pro day. While he didn't put up significant stats because he was often double- or triple-teamed in college, there's a strong sense around the NFL that Butler's trajectory is pointed skyward.
Run defense and block shedding
Butler can be a great player against the run, but he needs to start playing with a lower pad level first. He's powerful and uses his long arms to control blockers and reach out for tackles, but he often plays too tall. When that happens, he can be pushed off the ball. Butler is much better when he's given the chance to take on a single blocker and work past him to engage the runner directly.
His natural power does stand out when taking on two blockers, though. He's capable of holding his ground against both, and even knifing between them on occasion.
One more area where Butler could improve: recognizing angles and misdirection. Butler has plenty of athletic talent, but he occasionally misses opportunities for a tackle for loss because he took a bad angle against a runner, or paused from a ball fake.
Pass rush refinement and creativity
You understand the theme of this report now, right? Butler combines impressive burst with his awesome strength, but his pass-rushing game is like the pork shoulder I dropped in the slow cooker this morning: raw and unappetizing, but with the ability to become something better given a time investment. Butler has the bull rush down just fine. He can walk a guard backwards with one or two arms. I've seen him trying swim moves and rips, but his technique was robotic and lacking suddenness during his senior year. He's also attempted a spin move from time to time, but that was usually out of desperation, unlike Sheldon Rankins' much more refined technique.
One nice thing about Butler's pass rush is that he can do it from multiple spots. He's capable of playing anywhere on the defensive line and producing. Once he's free of a blocker, his closing speed and body control make him a good finisher.
Fluidity in space
This is where Butler stands out from other power linemen in the draft. He's a surprisingly mobile player. Butler was used to drop into zone coverage from time to time (as Rex Ryan's heart skips a beat from reading this line), and he can do a good job of chasing quarterbacks and slow runners to the sideline. He's not easy to cut block due to his flexibility, and if he sees the quarterback beginning a throw, he understands to swat down passes.
There's one word that best describes Butler: versatile. Well, two words: versatile prototype. Actually I'd add a third: raw, versatile prototype. Actually... the five words that best describe Butler are "mentally developing, versatile, raw prototype."
Butler is the best single option that the Bills could add to their defensive line if they were hesitant to add a second rookie, because he can play anywhere on the line, just like Marcell Dareus. A good athlete, Butler needs a smart, patient defensive coach to work with him on developing his technique off the snap, and when engaged. He also needs to spend more time developing his mental game, reading the positioning of players on the field to understand where a play will go, and developing his individual style for rushing the passer against different opponents.There's Pro Bowl upside here, but he needs some seasoning and eight hours in the slow cooker.