Wide receivers of Deon Butler's profile and draft position make better return men than receivers. The Seahawks would benefit from an above average return if Butler became a useful slot receiver. Don Beebe was never a great receiver, but in his prime he was a valuable receiver and dangerous vertical threat. Butler would do well to have a career like Beebe.
Butler does not have bad hands; they just are not a strength at the pro level. His hands are good, but his catching is inconsistent. He has strong hands that lock the ball in, but he sometimes overburdens them by misreading the pass, poorly positioning his body or letting the ball into his chest. The problem is time. Butler will not get as open in the NFL. Therefore time lost clumsily snatching a ball is time a defender will have to close and swat it away or knock it out.
Darryl Clark is a college quarterback and a good one, but a college quarterback. His passes can be erratic -- if not wild, than at least not always easily catchable. It wasn't long ago Roddy White and Michael Jenkins were notorious for their drops, but opposite Matt Ryan both blossomed. So we must account for the possibility Clark bears some of the blame for Butler's contortions. Butler wasn't known for drops, so maybe he was making the best of bad passes. It's hard to say. If Butler develops as a catcher or is more developed than I think, that will go far towards him reaching his potential.
He is not going to get the kind of consistent separation he enjoyed in College. Butler is over-reliant on his speed to get open on deep routes. Instead of sinking his hips, planting and exploding away from the defender, he challenges with his speed and then dares the defender to catch up as he rounds into his route. Unlike elite deep threats like Torry Holt and Marvin Harrison, Butler doesn't cut well at top speed. He does track balls over his shoulder and gives Seattle its best-by-far option on go routes, skinny posts and wheel routes.
Butler is best at running intermediate routes where he shows a better ability to sink and cut with authority in multiple directions.
Butler is short for a receiver and thin for a football player. That doesn't mean he's weak. The kid's got power and the kind of moxie to show anyone it. He's a stubborn blocker and as the stubborn always are, a liability to get embarrassed sometimes. Most blocks, he'll be there, be on his man buying time and doing his job.
His power better presents itself in his ability to break free from jams and get a little extra after the catch. It's not that he's too powerful to be jammed. It's that he's too fast, too quick off the line and too powerful to be jammed. His speed puts corners on guard for the bomb. His timing off the line and first step gives him position. And with the corner on guard and position achieved, Butler is powerful enough to shake off the jam and get into his route without significant interference.
He doesn't have the shake and bake of a Deion Branch or Greg Jennings, but his open field moves, good power and adequate agility allow him to get a little more from his receptions.
For all his speed, and Beebe was faster that Butler is, Beebe was not a great return man. His speed was straight line speed. Butler is a little shiftier, enough for it be an asset as a receiver, but I don't see him as an elite kick returner. We'll see.
Butler looks like a good prospect. There's a lot to like about his athleticism and there's a good foundation of skills. He needs to develop. He needs to develop in one of two ways to make it in the NFL. He needs to develop in both to be good.
Butler needs to refine his route-running, put some edge into his cuts and some deception into his lead-in. The problem with bubbling left to cut right is the bubble left eliminates almost any cut but the cut right. It puts him out of position for a double move. It would be a deliberate and maybe disastrous lead-in to a curl. It wastes motion and is an illogical lead-in to a post. It telegraphs "in" and gives the defender time to react.
He needs a better read and to make more routine catches and less stumbling, tumbling cool because it's college highlight-reel catches.
I don't expect players to develop new skills. This time last year I noted that Lawrence Jackson had good pass rush moves, but not pro-ready. Professional offensive lineman made that look like an absurd understatement. I think it's still fair. Jackson didn't have pro ready moves and needed to develop them, but didn't develop at all and likely regressed. Butler is not a bad route runner and his hands aren't bad, but it's hard to adjust to a jump in competition while learning new skills. It doesn't often happen. And so the cool and efficient draft process rated Butler a player with good potential, with a good chance to fizzle and an expectation of contributing for some seasons as a role player. Since that's still exactly how I see Butler, I'll grant him a "C" and hope he shows me more this preseason.