With the No. 30 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the Carolina Panthers select Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler.
Losing Josh Norman means that the Panthers will need to reinforce their defense in other ways, because there wasn’t a talent equivalent to Norman on the board at No. 30. Butler may have received small-school criticism from some, but his tape screams NFL starter. He’s 6' 4" and 323 pounds with great length, and he combines the speed and strength to take up any gap. He can also go into coverage, and he’ll command double teams on most every play.
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.