It started at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. A month later, it happened again twice at the NFL Combine. Then on Tuesday it happened again. The Detroit Lions have been obsessively following Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler, meeting with him four times already this offseason.
Butler was one of the lesser known defensive tackle prospects heading into the 2016 offseason. Having played in the lowly Conference USA, Butler was hidden from the spotlight during the college football season. However, Butler quickly turned heads at Senior Bowl, where the Lions first met with the defensive tackle.
Butler quickly shot up the draft rankings, but things hit a snag during the NFL Combine in February, when Butler failed to meet most of his personal goals. Still, that didn't dissuade the Lions, as Detroit met with Vernon twice during the week-long event:
Lions all over Vernon Butler. Formal interview in Mobile, informal here with another formal to come this weekend, according to the DT.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) February 27, 2016
Louisiana Tech had their pro day on Tuesday and apparently Butler reestablished himself as one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the draft. According to reports from the pro day, Butler improved upon every disappointing measurable from the NFL Combine, including running a 5.05 40-yard dash (he clocked in at 5.33 at the combine). Guess who was there to watch it all? (Via NFL.com's Gil Brandt):
The defensive line coaches from the Jets and Lions put Butler through his workout, in which he showed excellent movement and quickness.
The Lions' need for a defensive tackle is obvious. Although Detroit re-signed Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker this offseason, Ngata is 32-year old and Walker is on a one-year deal. There is no plan for the future. Butler would come in and immediately compete for playing time and could potentially provide stability at the position for the first time since Ndamukong Suh's departure.
But the Lions are facing a conundrum. Butler is currently considered a late first-round or early second-round selection. He may be considered a bit of a reach with the Lions' current No. 16 overall pick. But if the Lions wait too long, Butler may not be around for their second-round pick. Trading down is the obvious solution, but that is always easier said than done, and it comes with risks of its own.
If the Lions' interest is Butler is as strong as their offseason actions suggest, they may want to ignore the projections and grab the small school defensive tackle with their first-round pick.