The New Orleans Saints offense continues to impress year-in and year-out with quarterback Drew Brees at the helm. However, after a lack of depth at the wide receiver position last season, primarily due to injury, New Orleans needed to address the area in the offseason.
The team held back during free agency using their limited resources to invest in other areas of the team, including the record-breaking 5-year/$100 million contract extension for Michael Thomas. The Saints chose a quieter approach to dealing with this issue, in-house players and undrafted rookies.
Ted Ginn Jr. returns from injury and should resume his role as the number two receiver on the roster after coming just 26 yards short of 1,000 yards receiving in 2017. Second-year receiver Tre’Quan Smith has shown improvement in training camp from last season. He is expected to be a solid contributor if a connection with Brees is established. After that, those final few spots are open for competition, and an undrafted rookie free agent has his eyes set on one of those openings: Emmanuel Butler from the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Butler played football for his hometown college of Northern Arizona. He would start Week 1 as a true freshman for the Lumberjacks in 2014. Butler would play the entire season while also tallying two starts. Numbers were modest, but Butler gained 235 yards on 13 receptions and was the only underclassmen to score more than two touchdowns.
Butler’s sophomore season saw a massive improvement. He would gain just over five times more yards than last season with 1,208 through 11 games. He would set the Northern Arizona record for receiving yards in a season while also tying the single-season touchdown record with 15.
In his junior year, he would cross 1000 yards again and also snag nine touchdowns throughout the season. Unfortunately, two games into his senior season, Butler went down with a shoulder injury and would miss the rest of the 2017 season.
He would get to play one more season as a redshirt senior. However, the team was undergoing a coaching change. Between learning a new offense and playing with a new quarterback, Butler would have a pedestrian season posting 676 yards and 7 touchdowns. This was not the performance needed to show scouts his return to form after his injury. The receiver would enter the 2019 NFL draft after completing his collegiate career and go undrafted. Fortunately, the Saints were there to sign him post-draft.
Can he break into the Saints roster?
Butler measures in at 6’3″ and 220 pounds. Throughout his high school career, he played tight end but ended up being too small to play the position in college, causing his switch to wide receiver. He has already turned heads throughout Saints OTA’s, mini-camp and so far during training camp making many positive and note-worthy plays throughout practice.
However, on July 30th, Butler went down and left practice with an undisclosed injury. He would not return to full-team drills until August 10th, he did work out in a limited form but missed six practices in total during that time.
With his return to practice, Butler said, “It feels great. God is amazing. To be out here, to be able to play the game that I love and compete every day is truly a blessing. I’m very thankful to be back on the field,” according to Amie Just of nola.com. Butler would pick up right where he left off in training camp catching the first and last passes of the day plus many more.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) July 28, 2019
Butler continually shows off his impressive hands and ability to catch balls in traffic. More of these catches can be seen in the way too early impressions from Saints training camp article here where Butler was first mentioned. He seems to have found a connection with Brees early, and in this juggernaut of an offense, if you can find some chemistry, you can do some damage.
Due to his injury, Butler did end up sitting out the Saints preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings. Both he and the team said it was to err on the side of caution which is never a bad thing. But, with a game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, August 18th, Butler is eagerly anticipating his NFL debut.
When Just asked him about the game, Butler said, “This is what I’ve been dreaming of since I was a little kid — playing NFL football…This week I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Zachary Knerr is a writer for PFN covering the NFC South. You can follow him at @ZachKnerr on Twitter.