Monday, 11 May 2009

Butler's rookie role under played?

A few eye brows were raised when Seattle made an aggressive trade with Philadelphia to grab Deon Butler. The price was downplayed by the Seahawks front office, but it did involve coughing up a valuable third round pick in 2010 alongside 5th & 7th round picks this year. Clearly the team felt comfortable not only with the bounty they'd picked up for next year (getting Denver's first rounder) but also the potential Butler has to help the team immediately as a rookie.

Wide receiver is a notoriously difficult position to master in your first year. There are a few exceptions, most notably Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson who both had excellent introductions into the NFL. Usually however, there's some teething problems and Butler will be no different as he adjusts to the pro-game. But he can help the team right away, he absolutely can.

During his years in Atlanta and Oakland, Greg Knapp showed a tendency to go down field more often than Mike Holmgren did in Seattle. The quarter backs available may have had some influence, Matt Hasselbeck doesn't own the kind of rocket arm associated with Michael Vick or JaMarcus Russell.

However, too often in 2008 teams simply didn't fear Seattle's passing game - helping opposition defenses to stack the box, blitz freely and shut down the running game. Butler's raw speed (clocking 4.38 at the combine) will if anything help keep the offense honest. His ability to get deep and stretch the field is something the Seahawks didn't have with current starters T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. For the passing game to receive greater attention, having that outside threat could generate a much more balanced Seattle offense in 2009.

But it's not just the threat of Butler that could cause a surprisingly good rookie season. Butler explodes in and out of his breaks and shows a real ability to get open. There's a reason he broke Bobby Engram's Penn State receptions record (179 catches, 2771 yards, 22 TD's). He flashes the ability to make great catches but shows occasional inconsistency, yet nothing out of the ordinary for a young receiver. For a relatively small man (5'10") he's combative in his blocks and shows the desire you want to see from a wideout coming into the league.

You're not going to see a 1000 yard season from Butler, but his presence will be felt in 2009. His signing was as much 'win-now' as Seattle's choice of Max Unger in round two and he'll have a role to play in Seattle's attempt to bounce back in the new Jim Mora era. It wouldn't surprise me if other more productive players on the Seahawks roster are praising Butler by the end of the year for his overall contribution, even if he'll have to wait until later in his career to follow in the footsteps of former Nittany Lions' like Engram.

11 comments:

Ethan said...

Good post with solid opinions, as always. I agree with most of it, and I'm honestly excited to have a new WR with that kind of speed on the team. I'm not expecting him to be an Eddie Royal or anything, but I'm hopeful that we'll see hints of his upside this next season and then see even further development in the future.

Rob Staton said...

That's exactly what I expect Ethan - and thankyou for the kind feedback.

JRuss said...

I was almost as excited to hear about Butler's great hands and crisp routes as I was about his speed and quickness. I've read that he plays bigger than he is and that certainly would be a great thing if it proved true.

Enjoyable read, Rob.

Seth H. said...

Greg Knapp isn't afraid of trick plays. Imagine something like an I formation with Seneca Wallace and Deon Butler as the receivers, Seneca Wallace gets the handoff on an end around, but it's really a pass play and Deon Butler hauls it in for a long TD pass.

This can be a team that has some exciting big plays :)

Great analysis again Rob, can't wait for next year's draft!

Steve S. said...

Really, I think we should be honest with ourselves and admit that, assuming normal luck with injuries, Butler's contribution will be approximately zero in 2009. We have no idea if Butler can steal playing time from Taylor, Payne, or Obomanu, much less the top three. I'd be perfectly content to see Butler inactive in '09 and making a contribution in '10. In fact, if we were to look into the future and see Butler playing many meaningful snaps in '09 it would more likely mean that the $100+ million vets are injured than that Butler is tearing it up.

Rob Staton said...

Steve, I think the point is not that Butler will take production away from Branch, Burleson and Houshmandzadeh - but that he can contribute to the team from day one and have an impact alongside them. His speed can be used as a decoy or deep threat and they could throw him on in a 4 WR set or even a 3 WR set. He could be used as a return man and possible slot guy in certain situations. As I said in the article, not expecting an Eddie Royal type rookie campaign, but I think he offers something different to the team and can at least get involved early on.

Steve S. said...

Let me say a couple more things. There are of course a range of possibilities of what Butler might contribute in '09, from nothing on up to, say, what Darrell Jackson did as a rookie. My feeling is that the safer bet is toward the lower end of the spectrum, since there are a half dozen or more established vets ahead of him, three of whom are highly paid. But as we saw last year, anything is possible.

Regarding the argument that Butler's mere presence on the field will open things up, that's one I've never bought. No competent defensive coordinator is going to cheat his safeties toward a third round rookie just because he had a good 40 time at the Combine, otherwise you might as well draft Usain Bolt. Butler will have to make one or more deep plays in real games against real competition before this comes to pass, so to speak. So when will these opportunites avail themselves? In a competitive game they'll want the reliable vets out there, assuming health. In a blowout win they won't be throwing deep. He might get the chance in a blowout loss, but obviously we don't want to see that happen. So anything can happen, especially injuries, but I'm not counting on seeing much of Butler in '09.

Anonymous said...

Lets throw Devin Moore into this equation. I don't know if he ever lined up at WR, but, he can catch. Now, line him up on one side (or even have him come out of the backfield) and then see both him and Butler running downfield for a catch. Think it might cause some confusion in coverage for the opposing team?

Rob Staton said...

Some fair points Steve.

Annonymous - I'm not sure what the team think of Devin Moore. I expected him to be drafted, so the fact he wasn't was a bit of an eye opener. He'll have to prove himself in camp and possibly pre-season to win even a place on the practise squad, so it's hard to predict how the team might use him if he sticks on the roster.

melham said...

As an alum who has watched every PSU game since 1996, let me say that Seattle is going to LOVE Deon Butler. Everyone knows about Derrick Williams but IMO Butler was the best receiver on the team and the best since Bobby Engram. He will exceed all expectations, guaranteed.

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