Scott Says

Carolina Panthers add strength up middle, must turn to corners soon

Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler walks on the stage after being selected by the Carolina Panthers as the 30th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft on Thursday.
Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler walks on the stage after being selected by the Carolina Panthers as the 30th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft on Thursday. AP

Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman subscribes to an old baseball maxim when he thinks about his football team: You have to be strong up the middle.

In baseball, that means you really need a good catcher, shortstop, second baseman, center fielder and several fine pitchers. In football, Gettleman wants to make sure he’s always set at quarterback, offensive line (especially center), defensive line, middle linebacker and safety.

You can’t get much more in the middle of the field than a defensive tackle. So it came as no surprise that Gettleman went on his annual hog molly expedition Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft and took Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler at No. 30.

I like the pick just fine. If Butler can be another Kawann Short or Star Lotulelei, the Panthers got good value at No. 30.

The Panthers have to venture out of the middle of the field soon, though. They absolutely have to take a cornerback after waving Josh Norman goodbye on his way to Washington. I’d do it Friday, using either the second- or third-round pick on one. Really, picking two cornerbacks in the next two days would be a better idea, for it serves as the Panthers’ most depleted position.

But Gettleman clearly likes Butler.

“This kid is really talented,” he said. “We’re really kind of shocked that he was there.”

I asked Butler what his style of play was.

“Aggressive, penetrate up the field, make plays, get in the backfield,” he said.

Butler is a very big man, at around 6-4 and 320 pounds. The fabric used to make the tuxedo he wore to the NFL draft in Chicago could have clothed all the groomsmen at your average wedding. So Butler certainly looks the part.

I do find it troubling that he only had five sacks in a four-year college career at Louisiana Tech; even if you are getting double-teamed, you should fall into more than that.

Butler said he was a “tad” surprised he fell to No. 30, especially since he confirmed that the Detroit Lions had told him that if he lasted to No. 16 they were going to take him. They didn’t, though, and it was 14 picks before Carolina chose him.

Rivera said Butler reminded him more of Short (who’s more of a pass rusher) than Lotulelei (who’s more of a run-stuffer). “When you watch him on tape,” Rivera said of Butler, “the biggest thing you see in comparison to KK is his ability to slither.”

A 320-pound man who can slither? That sounds like the sort of player who can help you. More help needs to be forthcoming, but this seems like a good start for Carolina.

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