Brice Butler celebrating with fellow Wide Receiver Denarius Moore (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
GM Reggie McKenzie’s late round finds continue with receiver Brice Butler of San Diego State
Every year, a young player separates himself from the pack of low draftees, undrafted free agents, and highly regarded top picks. These young men usually take up the final roster spots on cutdown day, walking into the head coaches or general manager’s office hoping that their playbook will not be the one being turned in. As rookie receiver Brice Butler exited head coach Dennis Allen’s office on that fateful day, he still had his playbook. Butler, a 6’3" 214 pound burner out of San Diego State took one of the final spots on the Oakland Raiders official roster, solidifying his sterling performance during the preseason.
Reports about Butler’s rapidly improving skillset had begun leaking from camp early on, with Head Coach Dennis Allen reportedly saying, "Make no mistake about it; he's been a nice surprise," Allen told The AP. "When you get a seventh-round draft pick like that who's really developed, that's a good thing to have." Indeed, when a player is taken at the end of the draft it’s a flyer on an unknown quantity such as middle linebacker Miles Burris also of San Diego State, or someone who was underutilized in college such as fellow wide receiver, and apparent #1 on the depth chart, Rod Streater out of Temple.
To find someone who seems to have electric playmaking ability and is also a quick learner at the position is a feather in the cap of Reggie McKenzie and his scouting department. Butler, however, is not quick to give into the hype that he’s generated:
"All I'm focusing on is doing what I have to do and doing my job every day," said Butler following his 2 catch, 70-yard performance to help the Raiders beat the Cowboys in their preseason opener. "I can't focus on what the coaches are thinking or what the other players are doing. I've done that in the past and it didn't really go well for me so I'm really just focusing on what Brice has to do and what I can do best for the team."
Thats the right attitude for someone who wants to make a team coached by Dennis Allen, a man brought in by McKenzie and owner Mark Davis to steer the franchise back on course through good draft analysis and competition, and not annual Al Davis Scholarships.
What makes Butler such a unique receiver? Well first off, he’s an old regime pick made by the new regime, as Al Davis would have jumped at this kid’s athleticism. At 6 foot 3 and 215 pounds, Butler is a good sized wideout, but along with those metrics Butler is quite fast. He ran a 4.37 second 40-yard dash on his pro day, and utilizes this speed on the field with what looks to be veteran poise. During the first preseason game against the Cowboys he was not only fast, but incredibly agile, and was able to juke defenders on the first step and misdirect defensive help to gain extra yardage on simple routes. In fact, the kid is an across the board top tier athletic specimen, as the University Times of San Diego points out:
Butler also helped himself by putting his athleticism on full display with a 6.6 mark in the 3-cone drill, a 10’9 broad jump, and a 39-inch vertical – stats that would have landed him in the top-3 of all drills at the Combine.
He has impressed with his route running as well, as his timing with all three quarterbacks who have seen the field over the preseason seemed to be well put together. Notably his crossing routes over the middle, slants, and post plays were crisp and well developed. This is notable as in the last decade the Raiders have not had a dominant possession receiver that can go over the middle and haul in tough catches in traffic. Darrius Heyward-Bey was the last receiver that was trained to fit this mold and he did not pan out, albeit due to varying circumstances.
So now that Butler has proven that he can work hard enough to make the Raiders official roster, where does that place him among the other receivers? According to rumblings on the coaching staff Butler has, "seemed comfortable working in the slot," however he has been seen in recent games backing up #2 receiver Denarius Moore, so the coaching staff believes that he has latitude when it comes to where he can play. However, with Terrelle Pryor being the starter in the wings for next Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, it will be about who Pryor feels most comfortable connecting with as he grows into the quarterback role. So far, that main target has been Rod Streater, and while Streater has been hauling in more catches, that has left Moore as the odd man out. This is due in part to the fact that while Pryor has a big arm, it is not incredibly accurate, and Moore is one of the team’s biggest deep threats.
In this sense, Butler’s hard work may have given him an opportunity. In order for Pryor to develop into a better quarterback, he needs safety nets to help him when he struggles to hit deep routes or tough patterns. Butler is a big, sure-handed receiver that could fit nicely along with Streater on the opposing wing with slot receiver Jacoby Ford streaking deep with his blazing speed. It’s up to coach Allen, but Butler’s determination and natural ability at the position has made him think about shuffling his deck of receivers once more.
Butler hauling in a catch and escaping a Saints DB (Credit AP)