Victor Butler seems to have been forgotten by Saints fans. After being brought in last year hype swirled around the fancy new toy that was touted to be a potential starter on a Saints linebacking corp that had seen better days. Now, he has been pushed to the side and Saints fans are barely mentioning his name. While yes, Butler was a career back up in Dallas, he also showed a knack for getting to the quarterback in limited snaps.
Pro Football Focus rated Butler pretty highly during his time with the Cowboys, and while PFF ratings aren't necessarily the gold standard they do give us a solid baseline to compare different players. One thing to keep in mind are the relatively low snap count numbers.
Each year Butler saw an increase in snaps as well as an increase in his overall productivity rating. I said before to keep the snap counts in mind. For a proper comparison, Anthony Spencer in 2011 saw 939 snaps for the Cowboys and registered 6 sacks. Last year, Junior Galette saw 776 snaps and terrorized opposing Quarterbacks with 12 sacks. If we go back a year for Galette during the season that didn't actually happen, he had 299 defensive snaps with 5 sacks. While I don't think it's necessarily as easy as multiplying said snaps by 2 or 3 and getting what Butler would have produced, it does give us an idea of what he could have produced.
What really brings me hope, and continues to keep me optimistic, is that Butler isn't just a pass rushing player. During the 2012 season in which he saw 300 snaps only 127 of those were pass rushing snaps. He graded out through PFF positively in both areas of the field. For those of you wondering how well he did on his 127 pass rushing snaps: 3 sacks, 3 hits and 9 hurries finishing with a 9.4 pass rushing productivity rating. He also showed solid play recognition skills.
Non-pass rushing plays aside, Butler was brought in to bolster what was at the time a very anemic pass rush. Two things that stick out to me when watching Butler rush the passer are his ability to dip and the effective use of his hands. Butler forced 4 fumbles in his limited snaps (twice that of Galette) and makes an obvious effort to strip the ball during a sack. As we talked about last week, Rob Ryan is really stressing forcing turnovers. Here are a couple of plays to watch from his 2012 season. In the first play, Butler loses the positioning battle against the more agile Brown, but reaches out and gets his hands on the football. The second play is an example of the bend Butler can utilize to get around the tackle.
King Dunlap is not an elite left tackle, but Butler's move is effective and executed perfectly. If he can bring that to the Saints it could help round out the linebacking corp in the pass rush. The Saints had 49 sacks last season, a very impressive number and half of them came from the Jordan/Galette combo. What if a healthy Butler can add 6-8 more to that number? What if he broke double digits? All of this is purely speculative of course but it's worth considering. It is the reason he is here.
Lets take a look at another pass rush. This one is against Atlanta where Butler is matched up with Michael Turner the running back and Lousaka Polite the fullback. Turner rated in the top 5 for picking up the blitz as a running back in 2012 and Polite was a decent starting fullback. Butler beats both backs with his speed off the edge to hit Matt Ryan.
All of this means nothing if Butler isn't healthy. He will turn 27 this July and has had a full year to recover from his ACL tear. He was primed to become a full starter last year and I expect nothing less this year. He says he feels good, and you know Rob Ryan is excited about Butler's return and we should be to.
"It's great to get him back out there. He looks healthy; I can't wait. Right now, our tempo is that we're working on our scheme, our communication on our scheme, and how we operate. This isn't a full-contact camp. So that's when I think Victor will really show up where he's off his injury and things."
In today's era of modern medicine recovering from what was once considered a career ending injury is almost commonplace. Most can recall Adrian Peterson's return as he broke 2,000 yards. While having such high aspirations for Butler might be a bit out of place, seeing him as the potential winner of the comeback player of the year award, at least for the Saints team, isn't. After a year I"m pretty confident he is fully healed. I think if the Saints really wanted to they could have activated him in November of last year, but the drawback would have been having him more around the 80-90% mark of healing. By his own words Butler seems ready to get back into the game he loves.
"First of all I'm just happy to be out there with a helmet playing football again. Missing a whole year was heartbreaking. It's like an alcoholic not being able to drink. A fish out of water. I was feeling horrible."
The 6'2, 245 Butler is my early pick for the Saints comeback player of the year. One of the important rules of football is you can never have too many pass rushers . Last year our weakest link in the defense was the linebackers. Butler's return combined with both the draft and recent acquisitions over the past two years suddenly give us depth, talent and competition in the second level of the defense.
Thanks for reading everyone. As always, I welcome your comments, critiques and all around banter. God bless!