CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman couldn’t help himself.
When defensive tackle defensive tackle Vernon Butler from Louisiana Tech dropped to the 30th spot in the NFL draft, Gettleman took him, giving the NFC champions even more depth on an already strong and deep interior defensive line.
The 6-foot-3, 316-pound Butler won’t start, but gives the Panthers another “hog molly,” as Gettleman likes to call them.
“I couldn’t help my hog molly self,” Gettleman said with a laugh. “We were really kind of shocked that he was there. I don’t know why he fell. It was like my first draft here and watching Star (Lotulelei) fall to us. But the value was too good. He’s big and powerful and athletic and has all of the stuff.”
Butler had 50 tackles and three sacks last season as a senior and was named first-term All-Conference USA.
The Panthers came into the draft needing to fill openings at defensive end following the retirement of Jared Allen and cornerback after the departure of All-Pro Josh Norman, but Gettleman didn’t go that direction after five cornerbacks and three defensive ends went off the board.
The Panthers have Lotutelei and Kawann Short — whom Gettleman drafted in the first and second round respectively in 2013 — as their current starting defensive tackles. They picked up the fifth-year option on Lotulelei earlier this week and are hoping to sign Short, who had 11 sacks last season, to a long-term contract before the start of next season.
Butler is an athletic player, who didn’t switch from basketball to football until his junior year of high school.
“To be honest I wasn’t getting no taller being 6-foot-4,” Butler said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be playing in the post unless I was 6-9.”
Butler’s father played guard for Northeast Louisiana University on a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 1982.
Gettleman said seven teams tried to trade up with the Panthers to the 30th spot.
“The deals weren’t very attractive,” Gettleman said. “We got on the clock and they started to up the ante, but we had made up our mind by then.”
Ron Rivera said Butler is more of a 3-technique, but who can also play the nose tackle spot. Rivera said Butler helps fill the void created by Dwan Edwards, who retired after the season.
“He is explosive and powerful at the point of attack,” Rivera said. “We most certainly do see the upside.”
While Butler doesn’t have big sack numbers, the Panthers like the way he impacts the game.
“You can’t go strictly by the numbers,” Gettleman said. “It is about do they help other people make plays. This kid not only has the ability to create, but to finish too.”
Rivera also liked Butler’s ability to retain information during interviews with him and feels he will pick up the scheme quickly. Rivera said he expects Butler to be a part of the rotation right away.
“I am going to do what the coach wants me to do,” Butler said. “If they need a rotational guy. I will be a rotational guy.”
Butler said the Detroit Lions told him they were going to draft him with the 16th pick, but that never happened. He said he’s thrilled to wind up with a team that finished 17-2 last season and has won three straight NFC South championships.
“I’m a big Cam Newton fan and I have been a fan of him since he was at Auburn,” Butler said.
The Panthers didn’t strongly consider drafting a defensive end because Gettleman feels they have “good, young, raw talent” at that position, even with Charles Johnson getting older and Allen retiring. However, Gettleman also said he anticipates the Panthers will draft a cornerback at some point this weekend to help replace Norman.