Can Victor Butler Step In For Anthony Spencer?

The most talked about Dallas Cowboys player these days has to be free agent outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. There are three ways the Cowboys front office can handle his situation. They can place the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer and lock him up for one more season at $8.8 million dollars. Another option would be to simply move on from Anthony Spencer. That option would require the Cowboys to either sign a pass rusher in free agency, or draft a pass rusher in the 2012 NFL Draft.

But what about the third option? His name is Victor Butler and I believe that he is a young, up and coming player. Let's take a closer look at Victor Butler and learn more about him.

Take the jump

Victor Butler was productive during his career at Oregon State. He blew up in his senior season and had 65 tackles, 12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 21.5 tackles for loss. Butler left Oregon State ranked second on the all-time sacks leader list with 26 sacks, and fourth all-time in tackles for loss with 39.5. In the chart below you can see all of the Cowboys outside linebackers and their Production Ratio. Victor Butler is just behind Anthony Spencer in that formula.

With Victor Butler having a similar Production Ratio to Anthony Spencer, that makes me believe that the two are similar players. Anthony Spencer was a first-round pick, while Victor Butler was just a fourth-round pick. Maybe Butler was an overachiever in college, but his college production rivals that of a first rounder.

Production Ratio For The Cowboys Outside Linebackers

This table compares college production for Victor Butler, DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Alex Albright using the Production Ratio. Production Ratio = (Sacks + Tackles for Loss)/ Games played

Draft Round / Pick Player School Sks TFL Games Production Ratio
Round: 1 / Pick: 11 DeMarcus Ware
Troy 27.5 57 43 1.96
Round: 1 / Pick: 26 Anthony Spencer
Purdue 21 44 47 1.38
Round: 4 / Pick: 110 Victor Butler Oregon St.
25.5 39.5 49 1.33
Undrafted Alex Albright Boston College 14 30 30 1.47

In the 2009 Sun Bowl, Butler put on a performance that made the NFL scouts take notice. He racked up 11 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 1 forced fumble. It was a fitting end to a great career at Oregon State. The scouting reports on Butler said a lot of the same things. The positives detailed his speed and burst as a pass rusher. The negatives focused on him being undersized (6-2, 249) and labeled him as a "tweener". Most draft services had ranked him as a mid to late-round pick.

The Cowboys drafted him with the 110th pick in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Unfortunately the 2009 draft class wasn't a good one for the Cowboys. Butler may be the best player of that draft class and he has contributed in a backup role. He had a productive rookie season registering 3 sacks and early on, it was clear that we had something in him. In three seasons with the Cowboys, he has 8 career sacks. Those aren't eye popping figures, but he has shown us he can be a solid pass rusher with limited snaps.

Victor Butler's Snap Count and PFF Grades From 2009-2011

2009 2010 2011
Snaps 112 158 233
Grade -3.8 +7.0 +7.0

PFF didn't grade Butler out positively for his rookie season in 2009, but they have given him a +7.0 rating the past two years. PFF definitely sees something in him and his play on the field. Consider that Anthony Spencer played 939 snaps in 2011 and he racked up just 6 sacks. Victor Butler had 3 sacks in just 233 snaps. The question that should interest us is, what can Victor Butler do with an increase in playing time in the base defense?

Rob Ryan has made it crystal clear that he needs his outside linebackers to be pass rushers. The outside linebackers in this 3-4 scheme need to generate pressure and be productive against the run. We all know that Spencer does a great job against the run, but he leaves a lot more to be desired as a pass rusher. Butler may be one of the most underrated pass rushers on the team. If the Cowboys would be willing to sacrifice some of his deficiencies against the run and take the upgrade in pass rushing, then he would be a candidate to replace Spencer.

Butler has the tools to become a weapon in Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense. His speed and acceleration are very good. Due to his speed, I believe he could overtake Spencer in the base defense. The reason Spencer has been tagged with the "Almost Anthony" nickname is due to his lack of pass rushing speed. When you compare Anthony Spencer's and Victor Butler's combine workouts, they are actually very similar. Both ran in the 4.7 range in the 40 yard dash, and both of them had similar short shuttles and vertical jumps. When I watch them rushing the passer, the eye test shows me that Victor Butler has better overall speed and acceleration.

Another hot topic has been Butler's size and many wonder if he can durable. He stands in at 6-2 and weighs in at 249 pounds. Anthony Spencer stands in at 6-3 and weighs in at 257 pounds. If the Cowboys decide to go with Butler, they would only be sacrificing 1 inch and 8 pounds. James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers is only 6-0 and 242 pounds. Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos is just 5-11 and 260 pounds. Both have had success in the 3-4 defense at outside linebacker. So let's not underestimate Butler just because of his size.

Head Coach Jason Garrett has placed a emphasis on quality character. The shift to the "RKG" approach in personnel will continue to take over the Cowboys culture. In this Associated Press article from last year, Garrett talked about Butler and his growing responsibility.

"I don't want to say he's one of the more veteran players on the team, but there are a lot more younger guys around, so all of a sudden he feels a little bit more established," coach Jason Garrett said. "Maybe (he) takes a little responsibility with that and hopefully continues to grow."

Knowing that Jason Garrett is a supporter of Butler is a good thing. Butler was a team captain at Oregon State and he appears to come across as the "RKG". He is a hard worker on and off the field and he sounds like a genuine person who loves the game of football. Ever since Spencer publicly admitted to quitting during the 2010 season, I have wanted to make sure we have guys on this team that are passionate about the game of football.

The question that many Cowboys fans have asked, is why was Victor Butler used so sparingly last year? Reports coming out of training camp last year detailed the potential rise of Butler. The 2011 season never materialized into Victor Butler's breakout campaign like many of us had envisioned. You have to wonder why Rob Ryan was reluctant to use him more in his hybrid defense. It is possible that the Cowboys aren't convinced that he can handle a full time load.

What happens with Anthony Spencer in free agency and the approach the Cowboys take in the draft will determine how Victor Butler is utilized in 2012. If the Cowboys are confident that Butler can average at least 65 tackles and 5 sacks a year, then they may decide to roll with him as the starting outside linebacker opposite of DeMarcus Ware. I believe that we can replace Spencer's production by moving in another direction. My ideal course of action would be a combination of Victor Butler and a high draft pick. At the end of the day, it is all up to the Cowboys front office and what makes them feel most comfortable.

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