Looking Forward: Deon Butler, Part I

A big question on a lot of fans' minds this offseason is what will become of Deon Butler. Drafted by previous regime; doesn't particularly fit the profile of a Pete Carroll or John Schneider wide receiver. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but  also battled the drops and his 2010 season ended with a gruesome leg break that has some people questioning if he'll be able to return to the NFL at all. I personally think he'll be back - he may start the season on the PUP list but he'll recover eventually. The question of how he'll be used and what type of future he has in Seattle is a bit harder to answer. 

Deon Butler didn't come cheap to the Seahawks - they traded away three picks just to move up in the draft to select him in the third round (any third round pick is pretty valuable in the first place). They gave the Eagles their fifth and seventh round choices from '09 and their 3rd round choice from '10.  A little ridiculous in my mind but that is basically the Seahawks drafting tendencies of the past decade or so in a nutshell. So the Hawks gave up a lot to get a receiver that's 5'10, 175 lbs. It's not like that precludes him from being a great receiver, but it definitely comes as a disadvantage. My guess is that they drafted him with visions of DeSean Jackson in their minds, because he sort of fits that mold- extremely fast deep threat type receiver. You can't really fault them for that I suppose - Jackson had a ridiculous rookie campaign, leading his team in receptions and racking up almost a thousand yards on 62 catches. Not bad for a skinny little speedster.

What Butler lacks in size he certainly makes up for in speed. He was officially clocked at 4.38 in the 40 but some had him timed as low as 4.28. So he's very fast. And he has good hands as well - he caught 132 passes in his career at Penn State- 2nd all-time. Those attributes combined make him a pretty attractive target. I would still say what they gave up to get him was extravagant - but too late to change anything now. 

Butler was supposed to come in and make an immediate impact and be the guy for the Hawks to stretch the field as a deep threat in 2009. Then Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp had big plans for him early on, saying: "There's the ability to stretch the field with him. That gives us an attribute to help soften things up elsewhere on the field." But, Knapp admitted: "He's going to have to work on handling the bump in press coverage, because that's one thing that bigger corners would like to do."

He didn't manage much his rookie season, reeling in just 15 catches. His second season, last year, was supposed to be his breakout year- I remember in training camp and preseason Pete Carroll calling him maybe the most improved player on the Hawks and all that. Instead, it turned out pretty underwhelming as well. He's still very young and as we know a lot of receivers need 3-4 years to really break out, so I am holding off judgement for a couple of reasons-

One: I still believe he can be that speed, outside deep threat kind of guy; he runs good routes with precision and is undoubtedly really fast; he is fluid but very quick in his breaks and can find separation this way once off the line; and two: the Hawks passing game has been anything but spectacular these past two years and a lot of the blame should fall on the gameplan, blocking, and QB play coupled with the inability to run the ball. In other words, with the system working right, I still think Butler could be a good weapon for the Hawks.

Let's take a look at some of his numbers from this year:

He caught 36 balls for 385 yards and 4 TDs. His average yards per catch was a meagre 10.7. Compare that to guys of his ilk - though a little bigger, maybe the premiere speed threat in the NFL is Mike Wallace of Pittsburgh, who averaged 21.0 yds/catch on his way to 60 receptions, 1,257 yards and 10 TD. Desean Jackson averaged 22.5 yrds/catch on 47 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 TDs. These are the types of numbers that I would love to see Butler get - not necessarily the yardage totals and TDs because that would just be getting greedy, but the average yards per catch of 10.7 is measly for your supposed deep threat guy. Butler's had two receptions of more than 40 yards in 2010. After that, he had a game where he caught a 26 yarder and another with a 22 yarder, then it falls into the teens.

Now, again, I'm not saying this as an indictment on Deon Butler, necessarily. I think he's got potential to be a very good deep threat receiver but you have to put him in the right system. I think that the Hawks may be moving in that direction for a number of reasons.

First off, it's in Pete Carroll's offensive philosophy to move up and down the field aggressively and air it out. The Hawks didn't do this much (successfully) in 2010 because they lacked the tools to do so - a solid running game to set up the pass on play action, and a strong armed and accurate QB to make those throws. Hasselbeck is accurate on short and intermediate throws but his deep passing, for a number of reasons, leaves something to be desired.

Secondly, Darrell Bevell, I believe, will try and stretch the field more as well- everyone has him pegged as a "West Coast Offense" guy that will concentrate on short throws and precision - but that's not how he operated in Minnesota and it's not how he was taught by Brad Childress, an Andy Reid pupil. Who the Hawks bring in at QB will matter, but - I believe that the deep passing and vertical game will be more prevalent in 2011. This is where Butler could shine.

In part two I'll take a look at some game tape and break down a few plays for you. Stay tuned...

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