Film Breakdown: Introducing Patriots Rookie UDFA Adam Butler

The loss of Julian Edelman stinks. You feel bad for the player because of how hard he works and competes. You can tell how much he cares about football, and how much fans love him. Edelman is a true Patriot, and his importance to the team speaks for itself.

There are, however, other players that hope to be Patriots, and I took to the tape to write about a player that has elevated himself to many 53-man roster projections, at least initially.

Patriots rookie UDFA Adam Butler (#70), who was a three-year starter at Vanberbilt, has worked his way into the discussion for a roster spot during the 2017 preseason.

The Patriots lack of depth along the defensive line presented an opportunity for Butler, and he has taken advantage.

Butler is a big (6-5, 285-290lb), athletic, and versatile defensive lineman that understands the game, especially against the run.

At Vandy, Butler played both defensive tackle and end, and has done both with the Patriots as well. That type of versatility will always win you points with Bill Belichick.

Butler wasn’t a true standout at Vandy, but did rack up 27.5 tackles for a loss in four seasons, which was second on the team behind 2017 first round pick Zach Cunningham.

With the Patriots, Butler has shown off a lightning quick first step, and ability to fire through open gaps of the offensive line to make plays in the backfield. He has good hands, long arms, and quick feet for a man of his size.

Against the run, Butler has been as disruptive as anyone along the defensive front during the preseason. I have strong doubts about him as an around-the-edge pass rusher, but he’s gotten consistent pressure when rushing from inside.

Let’s take a look at Butler’s tape and see how this rookie UDFA has made a case to be on the 53.

Against the Run

Butler has proven to be one of the Patriots’ best penetrators on the defensive line, disrupting run plays with his impressive first step.

His get off is how he wins consistently, shooting the gaps in the offensive line before the line gets set in its run blocking assignments, but he also has good understanding of run defense, and arm/hand usage.

Most of these plays start with the first step, but you can also see the other skills at work. There are two key components to a good run defending defensive lineman. One, pressing the offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage. Here, you want to see a defensive lineman essentially bench press the o-lineman to stop forward progress, or push backwards, and extend his arms holding the lineman in position. Second, build the wall. Instead of trying to attack the ball carrier by yourself, most teams coach their defensive players to contain the ball carrier by holding at the point of attack, and waiting for teammates to converge to make the tackle. Some players get caught penetrating upfield too quickly, and lose contain on the running back, which is exactly what happened to Butler on D’onta Foreman’s TD run for the Texans. Incredible quickness off the snap for Butler, but he misses the tackle.

Twice above, you see Butler press, build the wall, shed, and contribute in making the tackle. On the second play, it isn’t the most sexy play shown, but it’s textbook run defense. The shed a the end to make the tackle after a great process to get to that point is great to see.

The first play against the Lions will get a lot of run on Adam Butler highlight reels. He blows through the A-Gap so quickly the Lions interior offensive line doesn’t stand a chance. The part you love to see, however, is the athleticism and effort to chase the running back down from behind. Impressive stuff from a guy that’s nearly 300 pounds.

Butler’s get off is impressive, it’s why he pops on tape, but if he continues to be a disciplined run defender that understands the team concept of stopping the run he could stick in New England.

Pass Rush

Butler is already a very good run defender, but he has some limitations that will most likely make him a situational pass rusher.

He’s not a natural pass rusher as a five-technique defensive end, meaning lined up outside the offensive tackle. He just doesn’t have the natural bend or speed around the edge to be a consistent out there, as much as Patriots fans would love that to be the case. He can push the pocket at times, and throw a spin move or two, but that’s about all you’ll get from him at defensive end.

This is the one play that will surely be seen a lot by Patriots fans, and it will make you think Butler could be a productive pass rusher eventually. One of Butler’s go-to pass rush moves is a spin move, which can be effective. It’s the only counter he has to a straight bull rush. Granted, that’s against a third or fourth string tackle for the Texans, but you see the quick feet. He has that type of athleticism.

As an inside rusher, likely in a three-technique in the Patriots preferred five-man fronts, he can do more damage. Inside, he has the ability to use that first step and light feet to beat interior offensive lineman that aren’t as athletic as tackles. Above, you see him get inside interior lineman, which forces the ball out early, and you see him handle responsibilities on a stunt with Harvey Langi that forces Stafford into an INT.

His only limitation in these situations is overall strength, and lack of pass rush moves. Often times, Butler is slowed by offensive lineman when his initial move doesn’t make progress, or when he bull rushes, and doesn’t instantly penetrate the line. There are stretches of pass rush snaps where Butler is being blocked by one offensive lineman. If he can’t get off a single-block while rushing the passer it will greatly limit his ceiling as a player.

Conclusion

Butler has flashed consistently enough in the Patriots first three preseason games to warrant legitimate consideration for the a spot on the Patriots 53-man roster.

He’s a unique player based on what the Patriots currently have at defensive line. Excluding Trey Flowers, the Patriots have a number of big-bodied defensive lineman such as Alan Branch and Malcom Brown. They also have Lawrence Guy, who’s primed for a breakout season, but is more of a tactician than an explosive one-gap penetrator.

That uniqueness could earn Butler a spot on the roster. His first step is very good, if not elite, and he has been the most disruptive Patriots player in the run game in the preseason besides maybe Branch. He truly has a chance to be a great run defender in this league.

As a pass rusher, things aren’t quite as promising for Butler, but there’s enough there that he won’t be a complete liability if he’s left on the field on passing downs. He’ll need to improve his overall strength and ability to get off pass blocks, but can still penetrate and use his quick feet to beat interior offensive lineman.

I would say that Patriots fans should limit their expectations for Butler. It’s true that he has earned a roster spot in my estimation, but there are legit limitations to his physique and general makeup that will limit his ceiling, that’s why he went undrafted.

Even with those limitations, however, his next-level ability to shoot gaps is something the Patriots don’t currently have in abundance among their interior defensive lineman, and that should be enough for him to make the Week 1 roster.