Games scouted: Arkansas-Monticello (2014), Southeastern Oklahoma State (2014)
From the first moment you turn on the game tape of Larry Butler III, inside linebacker from Division II Southern Nazarene University, both strength and flaw are readily apparent. I scouted two games of Butler’s from the 2014 season, and came away with very few questions; I have a feeling that what you see is what you get with Butler, both in a promising and pause-giving way.
Between these two games, Butler ended with 24 total tackles, two sacks, and five tackles for a loss. His disruption is evident, but I think that – even with this incredible line – he left some plays on the field. On one of the first plays he had action in, we see textbook wrap-up tackling from Butler on an outside run. Butler displayed starter-caliber patience to let plays develop and allow his line to spill the runs outside before full commitment to his tackles. He is able to disrupt outside plays working in space – where his straight-line speed becomes a major asset.
Where he falls short on these plays is that time and time again he struggles when it comes to strength-related tasks. This is not because Butler lacks in strength, but his tackling form leads him to hit players high, reducing his leverage on the tackles. By bending from the knees more and lining his targets up low, Butler would see his speed translate to power and could become a good hitter. Far too often we’ll see him pinned by blockers or stood up by a running back he’s trying to tackle, and then he gives up an extra few yards on the play. I worry about his ability to get off of blocks in the pros without major development of his leverage and block shedding techniques. If he used his frantic speed and agility in the way of a spin move or hand fighting to get off of a block, this would go a long way toward him being a much better interior blitzer.
Butler’s great speed is his major strength. His range is exceptional, and this gaudy stat-sheet entry is due to his being in on almost every play from scrimmage. He has the tenacity and eagerness to play the ball, no matter where on the field it is, and his 4.67 forty-yard dash time on a 245-pound frame allows that to occur. His instincts keep him aware of the ball, and he fits as an excellent run defender; you can tell he loves to hit running backs and blitz the A–gap. Where his instincts fail, though, are in his defense of the passing game. There is little anticipation of where the ball will be, as he instead is comfortable playing the ball carrier when he arrives in his zone. I would like to see him bounce in place less and instead shade toward where he reads the play to be going. If he truly begins to excel, he will be able to use his positioning on these plays to influence the quarterback of where to go with the ball.
All in all, Butler is a great athlete with the kind of motor and tenacity that catches coaches’ attention as a prospective project. He played every down of SNU’s game against Southeastern Oklahoma State with a multiply-fractured hand that had a club on it, and still made fourteen tackles with two for a loss. He has good instincts in the run game, and works well with room to roam and make plays on the ball carrier. He will have to improve his strength or refine his technique in order to play the interior run more consistently. His high motor and good speed lends itself well to blitzing, but again he needs to show a variety of moves to keep next-level linemen guessing, because he won’t blow anyone off their blocks. His coverage skills are suspect, but if he can improve his field awareness and anticipation, his physical tools lend themselves to this facet of the game.
Butler is a project if he makes it to the pros, but right now I think he has a place as a practice squad player on an NFL roster. In time, he could be a solid role player in the NFL, but I hesitate to project any higher than that because of the level of competition he faced. I would project him best as a weak-side outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. His range and speed will help him as a blitzer, and this role will allow him to not worry about coverage responsibilities. If he can refine coverage and improve his tackling leverage, he could play either the weak or strong-side inside position in a 3-4 as well. His skills give him versatility, and all he needs is to refine his technique in order to realize this.