SI 50, Nos. 18–17: Vernon Butler, Corey Coleman
Get all of Doug Farrar’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
With the 2016 NFL draft just a month away, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.
The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class, and why they’re slotted as such. As we get deeper into the top 20, it’s time to review the tape of a small-school defensive lineman with big-time potential, and a speed receiver who can scald the back end of any defense at any level.
18. Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
Height: 6' 4" Weight: 323
Bio: Small-school defensive tackles in perhaps the best defensive tackle class of the last decade better stand out on tape in order to get noticed, and Butler certainly does that. A two-star recruit who got a couple of bigger-school offers but decided to commit to the Bulldogs, Butler started making a real impact as a sophomore in 2013, totaling 16 solo tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack. His junior season, he racked up 35 solo tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and a sack, earning Honorable Mention All-Conference—which was a bit of a snub.
Butler considered turning pro after 2014, but returned to school for his senior year and finally won All-Conference in ’15 with 28 solo tackles, 10 tackles for loss and three sacks. No, his sack totals won’t blow anybody away, and there are obvious reasons for it on his tape, but Butler is a player who’s more than his stat line. Watch him excel from multiple positions, and it becomes very easy to see why a lot of analysts believe him to be a player with top-20 potential.
Strengths: Butler creates a threat to opposing offenses everywhere from head-over nose to five-tech end. Impressively explodes out of the gate for a guy his size—uses his upper-body strength and long (35 1/8") arms to push blockers back with authority. Impressive lateral agility and quick feet allow him to rush a gap or two from his starting point—can be an absolute nightmare to deal with on twists and stunts. Has the hand moves (primarily rip) to sift through blockers and take a clear path to the quarterback. Has a good eye for blocking schemes and openings; Butler is always looking for the crease. Gets his hands into the numbers quickly and creates great leverage advantages for his height. Persistent and aggressive player who will extend his arm to deflect the pass even if he’s blocked out, and will chase runners to the sideline. Commands at least a block and a chip on most plays, and gets a lot of double-teams. Recovers well against initial punches and requires blockers to finish through the down. Very quick player on the hoof who has exciting potential in certain coverage concepts. Blitzes at linebacker depth occasionally and effectively. When he plays at a slight angle and knifes through the first block, he’s just about impossible to stop from disruption.
Weaknesses: Occasionally comes off the snap high and a step late, and can get erased in those instances. At times, he can be pushed out of position, and opponents easily seal the edge against him. Butler dominates when he plays low and pushes, and he needs to do that more consistently. Plays top-heavy too often in general. Needs to develop his hands to slice through double-teams—relies too much on his feet to work through trouble, though his agility certainly is a strength. Lacks an extra gear to explode to the quarterback, which explains low sack totals in part. Could be more efficient with his body; assuming that will be dealt with by his NFL coaching staff. Some strength of opponent questions (got most of his sacks against “lesser” teams), but generally did very well against bigger programs.
Conclusion: Small school, right time: that’s the story of Vernon Butler. The NFL highly values multi-gap players right now out of necessity, as sub-packages and multiple fronts now rule the day, and every team is looking for the big man who can disrupt from as many angles and gaps as possible. Butler has as good a bull-rush as you’ll find from anyone in this draft class, but he’s far quicker than you’d expect for a man his size, and his effort from play-to-play checks all the boxes. He’s got some technique issues to work out, but there’s more than enough great tape to make Butler one of the most exciting draft-eligible defensive players this season.
Pro Comparison: Muhammad Wilkerson, Jets (first round, 2011, Temple)
17. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Height: 5' 11" Weight: 194
Bio: Coleman, who won the 2015 Biletnikoff Award as the NCAA’s top receiver, led the nation last season with 74 receptions for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns—taking in 36% of his team’s passes. He opened the season with six straight 100-yard games, and after an 85-yard “letdown” against Iowa State, he recovered nicely by torching Kansas State with 11 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
None of this was a fluke—Coleman amassed 64 catches, 1,119 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014, his first year as a full-time starter. Not only did he rack up 173 catches for 3,009 yards and 33 touchdowns, but he also ran 33 times in his collegiate career for yards and a touchdown, and added 25 kick returns for 651 yards and a touchdown for good measure. His over-the-top speed may be mitigated to some degree by his function in Baylor’s limited passing offense, but as Coleman insisted at the combine, he’s ready for more.
“I came from a high school that ran NFL routes had an NFL playbook, and when I got to Baylor, I had to adjust,” he said. “From high school to college I had to make adjustments, and from college to pro—even if you come from a pro-style offense—you’re going to have to make some adjustments because not everything’s going to be the same... I don’t want to be a project. I want to be a guy that can come in and play off the jump. Punt returns, kick returns. I don’t want them to think, ‘I have to teach him, it’s going to take two years to develop.’ I take pride in learning that playbook and doing whatever I have to do to be a pro at the highest level.”
Strong words, but Coleman has the potential to back them up.
Strengths: Enthralling speed receiver who shoots by most college cornerbacks on deep posts and straight vertical routes, eliminating any pretense of a coverage cushion. Any cornerback covering him who peeks into the backfield will pay immediately. Commands safety attention to his side and can really open up an offense as the X-ISO receiver with trips and bunch to the other side. Natural speed allows him to run with ideal velocity and still maintain receiver technique—keeps his head straight on timing passes and his hands free to grab the ball. Creates wide openings on curls and comebacks, and because cornerbacks are so afraid of getting beaten deep, it takes them an extra step to recover. Tremendous after-catch player on slants. Works well into openings with short-area quickness and blasts off in open spaces. Beats press coverage with hand and foot movement and is an expert at getting open for quick passes out of press. Fakes defenders out at the line with easy jab-steps. Has the nascent potential to demolish cornerbacks on stutter-goes—creates a constant route pressure with his speed. Legitimate threat as a number-one receiver in the right offense. Creates big plays and touchdowns at a ridiculous pace. Times his jumps well on high passes, though his catches are more athletic than physical in those instances. Should be an immediate help to his NFL team as a return man.
Weaknesses: Ran a limited route tree at Baylor—mostly quick hitches, comebacks and go routes—and will need time and training to get the hang of more complex intermediate routes, especially as a potential slot receiver. Has stretches of focus drops over the middle. Not a blocker of any note, and generally went through the motions on running plays and quick passes away from him. Not consistent on plays that require him to enter traffic. Can be pinned to the boundary too easily by cornerbacks establishing inside position, as he tends to rely on his straight-line speed too often, as opposed to elusive movement. Limited physical growth potential as a speed receiver, and isn’t yet ready for the complexities of the slot. Not yet a force on contested catches.
Conclusion: Coleman will get reps right off the bat in the NFL as a pure speed receiver, even if as a decoy to force coverage away from other receivers. While he currently lacks the route complexity and physical over-the-middle presence required of the league’s strongest and most consistent speed guys (think Antonio Brown), he’ll help in a lot of ways, and as he gets the hang of the little things, his role will grow. Ideally, he’ll rack up the stats as a complementary receiver in a high-rep passing team with bigger guys on the outside and an established slot presence. Sanders was a speed receiver out of college, but became a true every-down threat through hard work, and Coleman could do the same.
Pro Comparison: Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos (third round, Steelers, 2010, SMU)