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Football Outsiders List Victor Butler As Breakout Candidate For 2012

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Hopefully we get to see a lot more of Victor Butler doing this in 2012 and beyond for the Dallas Cowboys.
Hopefully we get to see a lot more of Victor Butler doing this in 2012 and beyond for the Dallas Cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys faced a tough decision this offseason with Anthony Spencer, and they decided to place the franchise tag on him for the 2012 season. It will cost the Cowboys $8.8 million to franchise Spencer this season. The Cowboys could have went out and drafted his replacement in the first-round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but they decided to upgrade the secondary with Morris Claiborne.

This past April, the Cowboys drafted Kyle Wilber in the fourth-round, and he reminds me a lot of Spencer. But for a fourth-round pick, that is a pretty good comparison. Spencer is not battling for his job (it's a shame he isn't), but he will face some stiff competition from Wilber and Victor Butler.

Butler is entering his fourth NFL season, which also happens to be his last year under his rookie contract that he signed back in 2009. While he is scheduled to make only $615,000 thousand in 2012, Butler is a player that definitely earns every cent because he is what I would call, an "overachiever". The success rate for fourth-round draft picks isn't too high, but Butler has the potential to become a very good player in the NFL.

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With the addition of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Butler appeared to be heading for a breakout season in 2011. Ryan tends to hype up his players, but he clearly liked what he had in the outside linebacker that he inherited for his defense. Ryan raved about Butler last summer, and talked about the opportunity he was willing to give him.

"You can be a big part of this defense," Ryan told Butler, 24. "We want you to contribute, but you've also got to know your stuff. And we want you to be accountable. When it is fourth-and-1, and we want to get off the field, we want to know we can count on you to make plays."

"When I saw him on the tape, it was like, ‘Who is this guy? This guy is explosive,'" Ryan said. "I understand he is behind the best outside backer in football (DeMarcus Ware) and behind another excellent football player in (Anthony) Spencer. The kid can get frustrated in that role. But we've expanded his role, and he's been excellent. We think he's going to get better and better."

Butler has managed to increase his snap count every season.

  • 2009: 112 snaps
  • 2010: 158 snaps
  • 2011: 233 snaps

In consecutive seasons, Butler has also received a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, registering a +7.0 rating. While he has started to receive more playing time, I feel that Butler still isn't used enough as a pass rusher. He is one of the best pass rushers on the team, and he may be only behind Ware in that category.

Aaron Schatz of ESPN Insider and the founder of Football Outsiders has released his list of breakout candidates for 2012. Football Outsiders has listed Miles Austin, Mike Wallace and Geno Atkins as their breakout candidates before, so they do have a reputation of predicting some breakout performers.

Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News was kind enough to release a transcript on the Victor Butler portion of the ESPN Insider article.

"Butler was a fourth-round pick out of Oregon State in 2009," he wrote. "He’s been hiding under the surface in Dallas, with only one game started in three years but eight total sacks as a backup linebacker. His playing time has gone up a little bit each year, and in 2011 Butler had three sacks, 10 hurries and four quarterback hits."

"He also got a stop on all 10 of his run tackles. Rob Ryan wants to get a heavy pass rush from his outside linebackers, and that’s what Butler brings to the table. Actually, his biggest task going forward may be gaining experience doing other things, since the outside linebackers in Dallas (especially the ones who are not DeMarcus Ware) do drop into coverage sometimes."

"Anthony Spencer will be playing on the franchise tag this year, so perhaps Butler will get more playing time to test if he’s ready to start in 2013."

I thought that Butler was going to take the next step last year, and he still had a very good season for us in a backup role, but my expectations were much higher, especially considering the comments coming from Rob Ryan last summer.

Is Butler ready to step forward in 2012 and make Anthony Spencer expendable in 2013? The Cowboys could franchise Spencer again next offseason, but it may cost them $10.6 million. If Butler continues to grow as a football player, the Cowboys may consider offering him a long-term contract with the team. We don't know how this will shakeout yet, but having Butler making the Football Outsider list of breakout candidates is a show of support for the fourth-rounder.