Matthew Butler, Tennessee DT | NFL Draft Scouting Report

As his scouting report shows, Tennessee DT Matthew Butler might be one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Edge rushers get all the hype, but interior defensive linemen are quietly just as important. They say defensive tackles have the quickest path to the quarterback, and defensive tackles who know how to get home always have a place in the NFL. With that being said, what is the NFL Draft outlook for Tennessee DT Matthew Butler and his scouting report? Can Butler go higher than many anticipate?

Matthew Butler NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Defensive Tackle
  • School: Tennessee
  • Current Year: Redshirt Senior
  • Height: 6’3 4/8″
  • Weight: 299 pounds
  • Wingspan: 82 2/8″
  • Length: 33 1/8″
  • Hand: 9″

Matthew Butler Scouting Report

You don’t often hear Butler’s name included with the top defensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft, but maybe we should. Toward the end of his long Tennessee career, Butler took a step up with his development and showed off legitimate high-level traits that can translate on the NFL stage.

Of course, even on the interior, there are different roles, and every player is different. What role does Butler fit best at the next level, and can he be a potential starter for an NFL defense? Let’s dive into the tape, and make that distinction.

Matthew Butler’s athletic profile

To be a top defensive tackle in a given class, you have to have a high-end physical skill set at the position. It becomes clear very quickly after turning on Butler’s tape that he passes this test. Butler stands at around 6’4″, 299 pounds, with arms over 33 inches long. And within that frame, he contains a great deal of athleticism.

Butler has near-elite explosiveness, to start. He’s incredibly spry out of his stance, and he can quickly build speed and get a step on opposing blockers. With his burst, he surges ahead and carries momentum into contact. And together, Butler’s explosiveness and strong proportional length culminate into dangerous power at the point of attack. With his power, Butler can wrench open lanes and tear down opposing anchors. He also channels his power to deliver violent extensions and drives back blockers in both phases.

Butler has a high-end combination of explosiveness and size, but that’s not where it ends. He can change directions relatively quickly and traverse gaps with his lateral agility, as well as swerve around moving blocks off the snap. Going further, Butler has the ankle flexion to stunt outside blockers and accelerate around the edge — a very impressive feat for his size. The Tennessee DT also has the raw strength to shove away blocks and give himself space to move.

Execution beyond the physical traits

Butler’s physical foundation is exciting, but he’s also shown to actively combine elements of force and finesse, and utilize his traits effectively. As a pass rusher, Butler can drive blockers back with a long-arm, then swiftly redirect his momentum. He’s shown he can use targeted physicality to capitalize on disruption angles. After achieving displacement with his explosiveness, he peels away from blocks with violent rip moves.

As it so happens, Butler’s hand usage is a staple of his game. He still has room for improvement in that area, but his hands are undoubtedly active and violent, and he has a fighter’s mentality in the trenches. Butler can deconstruct blocks with a variety of different moves. He can use clubs and swipes to knock hands away and free himself from anchors, and he also uses his agility and strength to swim inside with arm-over moves.

Butler’s upside as a pass rusher is immense, but he has utility as a run defender as well. With his sheer quickness, Butler can shoot gaps and disrupt blocking angles early in reps. His length also allows him to pry through those gaps and demolish running lanes, and he has the flexibility to flip his hips and adjust his leverage in tight spaces. Butler can recognize run directions based on blocking angles, and he’s also flashed the ability to establish a half-man relationship and wall off holes with his length.

Going further, Butler can effectively lower his pads, establish superior leverage, and use his upper-body torque to rip himself free from blocks. He also has some closing burst in pursuit and as a tackler. His motor runs hot on the chase.

Areas for improvement

The upside is tantalizing with Butler, but there are some ways in which the Tennessee DT can refine his game. Consistency is an over-arching theme, and while Butler took a massive step up in that direction in 2021, he can still improve further.

While Butler’s hands are fast and violent, the Tennessee DT can place his hands more precisely at times, and he can be more pre-emptive when it comes to setting up linemen and capitalizing on displacement. Going further, Butler can be more consistent stacking rush moves. His rushes sometimes fade after the first move, and his stamina can wane on reps as well. He’s not always able to sustain rushes to the whistle, and he doesn’t always finish effectively after beating his blocker.

Moving onward, Butler has some wasted motion out of his stance. He can better load his punches and exert force efficiently. Additionally, while he has twitch and energy, he needs to be more efficient and consistent channeling on rushing reps. It doesn’t help that Butler comes out of his stance a little tall at times. There are instances where Butler doesn’t drive into contact enough, and when he’s too upright, that can sap at his momentum.

Among other things, Butler can be over-aggressive and give up positioning in run defense. He sometimes gives up too much surface area and lacks control with his anchor, and can work to have more consistent leverage and hand placement. Additionally, while he has a great size-athleticism combo, his length and density don’t qualify as elite. He doesn’t quite have the strength to break double teams and projects best at 3-technique.

Butler’s 2022 NFL Draft scouting report overview

Butler doesn’t have a ton of buzz, but for my money, he’s one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft. Butler can still strive for more consistency in several areas, but he comes with a relatively high floor as both a pass rusher and run defender. Even more exciting is the withstanding upside. Butler’s ceiling is high, and he still has a ways to go before reaching it.

Butler is a supremely explosive DT with good proportional length, violent and combative hands, and a hot motor off the line. He also has exceptional lateral agility and flashes the ankle flexion necessary to pry around blockers and stunt from different alignments. Although he projects best at 3-technique, you can line Butler up anywhere from 0 to 4-technique, and let him feast on different angles all day.

With his explosiveness, length, power, agility, and violent style, Butler has definite starting potential and could be an impact player down the line. He can play in odd fronts as a defensive end, or in even fronts as a defensive tackle. The bottom line is, he has the physical tools to be a mismatch for interior blockers. He’s well worth a top-100 pick, and his Combine testing numbers could inflate his stock even more.

Butler’s Player Profile

Remember that commercial where Charles Barkley plays pickup basketball with a bunch of kids? That was Butler in high school. A three-year varsity player at Garner Magnet High School in North Carolina, Butler quickly made an impression as a future star on the football stage.

As a sophomore, Butler put up 5.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss. He kept pressing through 2015, then exploded onto the scene in 2016. Then a senior, Butler became a man among boys on the defensive line. He was utterly dominant, racking up 26 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in 13 games, as well as 3 deflections and a forced fumble.

Butler’s play earned him four-star recognition on some recruiting outlets, but he was a three-star recruit on ESPN’s board. Nevertheless, Butler’s athletic testing gained him interest from high-level programs. Butler ran a 5.11 40-yard dash and a 4.78 shuttle at 6’4″, 265 pounds, and also registered one of the best vertical jumps at his position at 32.5 inches.

Butler fielded scholarship offers from almost two dozen college football programs, including Texas A&M, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina. But the DT chose Tennessee instead, heading to the heart of the SEC.

Butler’s career at Tennessee

Despite his late domination in high school, it took time for Butler to earn an extended role with the Volunteers. Butler began as a rotational player in 2017, and only logged 4 total tackles in limited action. The next year, he saw a slight uptick in opportunities, but only registered 11 tackles and a tackle for loss.

In 2019, Butler got his first whiff of a starting role. He played in all 13 games and started four, amassing 45 tackles, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and 2 pass deflections. It wasn’t a banner year, but it was enough to earn Butler a full-time role in 2020 and 2021. And by the end of that two-year span, he would blossom into a premier playmaker.

2020 was a similar year to 2019 in terms of production, but Butler took a late-career leap with his final season. In 2021, the Tennessee DT reached new heights, accumulating 47 tackles, a career-high 8.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, and a forced fumble.

On top of his on-field accomplishments, Butler was also a consistent academic performer off the field, earning a political science degree with a 3.63 GPA. Additionally, he was recognized as a semifinalist for the 2021 William V. Campbell Trophy — given to college football players who excel on and off the field, as well as in the community.

Butler’s NFL Draft ascension

The Tennessee defensive staff has long benefited from Butler’s high-profile pass-rush presence. But now, it’s time for Butler to take his talents on the defensive line to the next level.

After a strong Shrine Bowl showing, Butler’s stock is starting to build a bit. And as more circle back to the tape, it’s likely that he’ll keep rising. Butler may have been a late bloomer at the college level, but he broke out in a big way in 2021. And along the way, he showed off high-end physical tools — tools that could eventually earn him a starting job.

At the very least, Butler should be a rotational piece right away with his pass-rushing prowess and utility in run defense. He’s a fairly alignment-versatile defensive lineman who’d flourish in odd and hybrid fronts. And at his peak, Butler can be an impact starter. The athletic tools are there. So too is the violent disposition that’s always a necessity in the trenches.

Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Matthew Butler

Positives: Quick, explosive lineman who plays with a relentless style. Fires off the snap, plays with excellent pad level, and gets a lot of momentum going up the field. Stays on his feet, plays off blocks, and bullies his way behind the line of scrimmage to impact the game. Uses his hands exceptionally well, has nice length, and stays on his feet. Very quick, easily changes direction, and works hard.

Negatives: Not a big-bodied tackle and gets knocked around in the middle of the line. Handled by a single blocker.

Analysis: Butler is a solid interior line prospect who has outstanding length, decent athleticism, and a large upside. He must fill out his frame, but he’s a scheme-versatile defender who could eventually break into the starting lineup.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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