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Film Room: What Matthew Butler brings to the table

Diving into the numbers and tape of rookie DT

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Tennessee at Missouri
Matthew Butler
Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was no secret that the Las Vegas Raiders were looking to bring in defensive tackles this offseason. The Raiders have been active at the position in both free agency and the NFL Draft, signing four new players, re-signing another and drafting two more, one of which was Tennessee’s Matthew Butler.

The fifth-round pick projects to play more of a backup role in year one, but the competition should be wide open during training camp and the starting spots will be up for grabs.

So, what does Butler bring to the table for new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham?

General Stats

Before diving into the more advanced metrics, we’ll take a look at Butler’s basic or “box score” numbers.

He ended up participating in 35 games over five years, however, he wasn’t a fixture in the defensive line rotation until 2019 or year three, with his first college start coming during Week 7 of that season. The former Volunteer managed to rack up 152 total tackles, 68 solos, 16 tackles for loss (TFL) and 9.5 sacks; 135, 64, 14.5 and 9.5 of which unsurprisingly came during that three-year window.

From season to season, his number of total and solo tackles remained pretty consistent, going from 45 and 23 in 2019, to 43 and 22 the following year before wrapping up with 47 and 19 this past season. But his TFL and sack numbers were a different story.

Butler had a dramatic increase in those two categories as a senior with over 50 percent of his career production coming in 2021. That year he had five sacks compared to 4.5 in the previous two combined and 8.5 TFL to six. His overall PFF grades followed the same trend, with a 61.7 mark in 2019 (ranked 47th out of 55 qualifying SEC defensive tackles), 66.4 in 2020 (tied for 16th out of 52) and 76.7 last year (10th out of 56).

In other words, Butler maintained a steady pace of making plays but was more impactful during the final frame.

Pass Rush Stats

For the more advanced stats, we’ll keep the focus on the last three seasons since the other two don’t come with a big enough sample size to be relevant.

Butler stumbled out of the gate during his first season in the defensive line rotation. He notched a PFF pass-rush grade of 63.7 which was 35th out of the 58 qualifying SEC defensive tackles while tying for 28th with 11 pressures and registering an 8.4 percent win rate that ranked 31st. So, the Tennessee product was in or near the bottom half of the position for those three categories.

The following year, he put up similar numbers but his rankings improved. A 62.9 grade was good enough for 25th out of 50 interior defenders in the conference and his 10 pressures and 8.5 percent win rate were good enough to tie for 17th and 20th, respectively.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Matthew Butler
Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

What’s interesting is he rushed the passer 17 more times than the year before but put up nearly identical numbers while improving his standing among peers, suggesting the competition level dropped while his growth was stagnant.

Butler’s final year in Knoxville was by far and away his best and most productive year once again. He earned a 72.9 pass-rush grade that ranked 10th out of 48 qualifiers while tying for the third-most pressures with 31 and bumping the win rate up to 11.4 percent, the ninth-best mark.

To add some context, he recorded about 80 more snaps as a pass rusher than any other defensive tackle in the conference, so his pressure number is slightly inflated. But landing in the top 10 for several categories in a conference littered with Day 1 and 2 picks is impressive nonetheless.

Run Defense Stats

A lot of the trends we’re seeing above hold true for the Raiders’ fifth-round pick against the run.

In 2019, his 64.1 run defense grade was tied for 41st out of 53 qualifiers, and while he did have the seventh-most total tackles against the run (25), those came with an average depth of tackle (AVDT) of 3.0 yards, which is pretty deep, and ranked tied for 47th. Butler also logged 15 run stops — tied for 13th — but at just a 7.3 percent rate that was the 21st-best, so he wasn’t quite as efficient as he was productive.

Again, his 2020 numbers were very similar with a 65.7 grade, 29 total tackles, a 3.7 AVDT, and 15 run stops at a 6.3 percent rate. Those figures ranked 16th, first, 47th, tied for fourth and 15th, respectively, while he recorded the fourth-most run defense snaps among the 53 qualifiers. That means he certainly benefitted from some volume this season but still was a Top 15 player against the run.

The following year, a 76.4 grade was good enough for ninth out of 53 and he tied for seventh with 25 total tackles. Improving his AVDT by over two yards — 1.5, ranked tied for 15th — might be his most-impressive accomplishment as a senior, and finishing tied for fourth with 21 stops is nothing to scoff at either.

Granted, he did have the second-most opportunities and was only 19th with a run-stop percentage of 7.2, but, interestingly, Butler’s grade was over 10 points higher than the previous season. That likely means he was beating blocks and plugging up his gap, it just didn’t lead to production, but he was doing his job more consistently.

As a side note, Neil Farrell Jr., one of the Raiders’ two fourth-round picks, led SEC defensive tackles in run stops (24) in 2021.

Film Clips

You might recognize these clips from Butler’s scouting report, but I’ll add more context to paint a better picture of what he can bring to the table.

This first one is a great example of him destroying a block that doesn’t lead to any stats but still is a productive play, and serves as an example of what he can do when his technique is clicking on all cylinders.

The new Raider is lined up or shaded on the weak side in this over front from Tennessee. Post-snap, Pittsburgh has an outside zone run play called where the offensive line is reach blocking to the right.

Butler does a great job of recognizing this and taking his eyes from the center to the guard and attacking the guard. At the point of attack, he has great leverage on the offensive lineman to reset the line of scrimmage, and his hands are nearly perfect as he’s able to get extension and get off the block with little to no problems. That takes away the cutback lane for the running back and effectively cuts the field in half.

Plays like this have to give the coaching staff hopes that he can develop into a starter, these reps just need to show up more consistently.

Here, we’re going to see an example of how Butler’s athleticism can be an asset against the run.

The Panthers called another outside zone run and the Volunteers counter by slanting the defensive line to the strong side to throw off the offensive line’s angles. A big key here is Butler’s pre-snap alignment. He’s playing inside shade of the tackle or in a 4i-technique when normally, the coaching point would have the defensive lineman cheat more toward the guard to cut down the amount of ground needed to cover to get to the A-gap.

However, Butler has the lateral movement skill and quickness to play a true alignment and still get to the spot. That catches the center off guard and causes him to take too steep of an angle toward the nose tackle instead of coming flatter toward the line of scrimmage on the combo block. By the time the center realizes a slant is on, it’s too late and Butler is in a perfect position to make a tackle for loss.

This is something Las Vegas’ coaching staff can borrow from Tennessee’s as getting the big man on the move was a big part of what made him successful in college.

For being under 300 pounds, Butler is deceptively strong and I think that shows up most at the point of attack and when getting off blocks.

In this play, it looks like Tennessee is having him two-gap from a shaded alignment instead of being heads up with the guard. The Volunteer does a great job of getting to square with his first step and being physical when taking on the guard to gain control of the block and show color to the inside/A-gap. Once he sees the running back commit to the outside/B-gap, Butler then has the strength to shed the offensive lineman’s block and the agility to factor into the play even though the back bounces it out to the C-gap.

You can’t ask for much more than that from a two-gapping defensive lineman.

Here’s another example of the fifth-round pick’s deceptive strength, but as a pass rusher this time.

Playing as a 2i-technique, he gets off the ball and immediately starts working to the outside of the guard, which gets the offensive lineman to turn his hips to the sideline and help open up an inside rushing lane. From there, Butler gets his inside hand right to the lineman’s chest and has the strength to get the lineman off balance. He’s then able to win to the inside with an arm-over move and help flush Kenny Pickett out of the pocket.

Again, we can see an example of the movement skills and power that made Butler an intriguing prospect.

One more example of the new Raider’s potential as a pass rusher.

Lined up at nose guard, he does a great job of setting this move up by working vertically initially and then getting on an edge to test the center’s movement skills. That’s effective as the center can’t stay in front of the Butler, and Butler uses a solid rip move to get the blocker off of him and help turn the corner.

This might be a strip-sack if the ball is out a half-second later but regardless, the pass rusher does his job by creating havoc and making this a tougher throw for the quarterback.

That’s two reps in a row where we’ve seen Butler show some pass rush savvy by stemming his initial path to help set up the move.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to depict in an article like this but consistency is probably the biggest area of concern with Butler’s game. He’ll have the flash plays like the ones above and then seemingly disappear for long stretches throughout the game, which is somewhat reflected on the stat sheet. The potential is certainly there, it’s just a matter of turning that into production and if he can do that, the Raiders might have found themselves a late-round gem.