Will Malcolm Butler Perform at a High Level for the Patriots?

Preseason has always been a time for teams to look at their deficiencies (also their strengths, but not as much) in order to find a way to fix them moving forward into the NFL season. It is also the perfect time for the players who were overlooked in the draft to showcase their abilities, and see if they have the talent and heart to belong on an NFL roster. About a year ago, one of those players had that very same opportunity with the New England Patriots in Malcolm Butler. His performance during this time earned him a roster spot, and while he didn’t perform much into the season, his contribution to the team came at a time when they needed it most. With the Seattle Seahawks one yard away from capturing back-to-back titles, Butler intercepted a pass thrown by Russell Wilson that will forever live in the infamy of NFL history and clinched the Patriots’ fourth title of the 21st Century.

As they were celebrating, soon the talk was centered around the idea of Butler possibly ascending into an important fixture of the secondary. When starting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner departed from the team in free agency, many analysts speculated the strong possibility Malcolm Butler would be one of the players who would replace them for the coming season, and perhaps even be the starting corner. He clearly showed some talent in the position in the Super Bowl, where he consistently defended Seahawks receivers well. However, guarding third stringers for a team that didn’t even have a solid starting receiver throughout the season is not showing any true signs one can perform well in a league with so many high caliber receivers around.

It was not expected for Malcolm to become the number one guy right away for the team, as he had shown potential, but had much to learn. Now that it is quite apparent he will be the starting corner of the Patriots for the 2015 season, it is vital to spend more time looking at him in order to get a clear definition of what will be the outlier that will accompany him the rest of the way.

Like all players under Bill Belichick, it is of fundamental importance for them to be very knowledgeable of the game of football, as he has shown over his tenure that he prefers a player with a brain more than just pure strength. This has been one of Butler’s most striking qualities, but with new responsibilities hinging on his shoulders, this learning process all players must go through had to be greatly accelerated in his case. It is not an easy task to do, as playing corner is a position that has more to do about deception and mental acuity as much as skills. When it comes to such skills, Butler’s main strength has always been his speed. Very quick at the line, aggressive at the point of attack, and quickness and agility in his favor, Butler has an arsenal of talent in order to maximize.

The word around training camp has been very positive surrounding him, with many praises from reporters like Tom Curran, who cover the Patriots regularly during this time. His most striking deficiency has mostly come in over-thinking and misreading a route or the receiver’s motions, and he was repeatedly exposed in a joint practice against the Saints a couple of weeks ago, as it was heavily highlighted by many insiders. When faced with this uncertainty, Butler reportedly had a bounced back performance the following practice. This incident here showed two more striking qualities that will serve as indicators to his performance latter on: his determination to get better, and ability to bounce back when not playing well. These traits are a very positive sign for the team moving forward with their situation, as the fear of failure and improvement on mistakes should always be an important part of player development.

No matter what happens in the rest of his career, Butler’s legacy in Patriots history is already secured, but now he has an incredible opportunity to continue such by performing at a consistent level for as long as he can. It is yet unclear how productive and effective Butler will truly be for them this year, and the question is virtually up in the air. While he has an incredible work ethic, this is only his second year in the league, and the position he plays is one that a period of maturation must take place in a player before achieving consistency in it. The potential is clearly there, as well as the coaching, but there’s never been a long time frame to fully see it. Whatever doubts or questions left to be answered on Butler will definitely be fully understood once the season starts, but if preseason and training camp is any indicator, this will be a very interesting year in his development.

 

FOXBORO, MA – NOVEMBER 02: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts alongside Malcolm Butler #21 and Akeem Ayers #54 after defeating the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on November 2, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)