Vernon Butler wanted to enter the NFL draft following his junior season in 2014.
So, he requested a draft grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee.
“It was a fourth or fifth round grade,” the former Louisiana Tech star said.
What if it was a second or third round grade?
“I probably would have come out,” Butler said, withholding a chuckle.
He can thank that committee. Fifteen months later, Butler is a projected late first-round selection.
The 6-foot-4, 317-pound defensive tackle was scheduled to fly to Chicago on Tuesday for the NFL draft, beginning with the first round Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN. He’s one of just 25 players attending the draft, receiving his invitation – signed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell – a few weeks ago.
His mother, Beverly, father, Vernon Butler, Sr., and two sisters, Veronica and Natalie, will join him at the Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre. A draft invitation doesn’t guarantee a first-round selection, but Butler is glowing with confidence during an interview three days before the event kicks off.
“I won’t make it out of the first round,” Butler says. “Come Thursday night, I’ll be one of those.”
Several draft prognosticators agree.
In two years as a starter for the Bulldogs, Butler rolled up 106 tackles, 23.5 for loss and four sacks. He vaulted up draft boards after a senior season that earned him first-team All-Conference USA, and he moved up again after impressing scouts at the Senior Bowl in January.
“He’s got a shot late in Round 1,” said Mike Detillier, NFL draft analyst for WWL-870. “It just depends on how quickly the run starts on defensive tackles.”
He’s the fifth-best defensive tackle in the draft, according to CBSSports.com’s rankings, behind Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama), Jarran Reed (Alabama) and Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss).
Nkemdiche’s off-the-field woes may push the former Rebels star into the second round, opening the door for Butler’s first-round prediction to come true.
Butler, a Summit, Mississippi, native, knows he’s not perfect, though. His sack total (4) in two seasons is a statistic behind what he admits is a fault: dropping the quarterback.
“Got to pay attention to the quarterback,” he said. “Got to get the quarterback on the ground.”
There are other issues, too. Detillier says he needs to be a better pass rusher, and BleacherReport.com’s Matt Miller says he’s inconsistent during the course of a game.
Either way, Butler is in line to be the highest-drafted Louisiana Tech player since 1999, when the Steelers took receiver Troy Edwards with the 13th overall pick.
Butler will be the highest-drafted Bulldog defensive lineman since Fred Dean, the 33rd pick of the 1975 draft, and he’s set to be just the ninth Louisiana Tech player picked in the second round or better in the program’s history.
“I’m excited,” Butler said. “It’s nervous at the same time. I’m ready to see who will pick me.”
Butler conducted private workouts for the Patriots, Lions, Bengals, Raiders, Panthers, and Titans during this four-month long draft process.
Most NFL teams want him to play in the three-technique, a term describing a player who aligns on the offensive guard’s outside shoulder, between the guard and tackle. That’s his most comfortable spot, he said, but Butler is versatile.
In fact, he played virtually every position on the line at Louisiana Tech, lining up at defensive end and nose tackle at times.
Miller calls him a “massive space eater” and a “prototypical” nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, but NFL teams running a 3-4 want Butler as a defensive end, they’ve told him.
His exact position might be uncertain. What is? He’ll be signing a heftier contract because he remained at Louisiana Tech for his senior season.
If his first-round prediction unfolds Thursday, Butler’s signing bonus could be more than $4 million. For a boy from rural Mississippi, that’s not bad. Butler’s mother doesn’t work, and his father is a warehouse technician.
“I know,” he said, “it’s going to change my life.”
Vernon Butler is projected as a late first-round and early second-round NFL draft pick. That would put him in elite company at Louisiana Tech. Only eight Bulldogs in history have been picked in the first or second round.
QB Terry Bradshaw
OL Willie Roaf
WR Troy Edwards
WR Roger Carr
OL Jim Boudreaux
DE Fred Dean
LB Walter Johnson
TE Mike Barber
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.