Donald Butler didn’t have to run the 40-yard dash at the University of Washington’s Pro Day.
The ankle the former Huskies linebacker sprained during the Senior Bowl game in January still was swollen, so it would have been understandable if Butler had passed on Wednesday. Understandable, but also unforgivable, as far as Butler was concerned.
“I think I needed to run today,” Butler said after improving his already upwardly mobile draft stock by running a pair of 40-yard dashes in the mid-4.6 second range.
“I didn’t want to push my Pro Day back any more. I really don’t have the luxury to do that. So I wanted to come out here and show at least a little bit of what I can do.”
Butler was hoping to run even faster – into the 4.5s – but he garnered style points for even making the effort.
“The kid already has shown plenty,” one scout said. “By running today, on that ankle, it only displayed his toughness and how much he wants this.”
And want it Butler does. That was apparent by how he showed up for the series of tests and drills that were performed for representatives from roughly 17 NFL teams. Butler’s upper body was chiseled, and he weighed in at 235 pounds – 10 fewer than at the scouting combine last month.
Butler began his day by popping a 35½-inch effort in the vertical leap. He passed on the bench press, after doing 35 reps with 225 pounds at the combine. Then came those all-important 40s, where Butler looked smooth and strong. In the individual drills that concluded this Dawg-Day afternoon, Butler displayed a nice combination of explosive bursts and fluid movements as he dropped into coverage.
“The fact that I can drop back, understand pass concepts and then break on ball helps my stock out even more,” Butler said.
The whole of Butler’s impressive parts left one scout to harrumph, “I liked him last year, and thought I was onto something. Now, everybody likes him.”
The question with Butler is whether he’s better suited to play inside in a 3-4 defense or outside in a 4-3. He did both during his career with the Huskies. Butler is ranked No. 5 among the inside linebackers by NFLDraftScout.com, and was included on its all-combine surprise team.
“Among the more athletic linebackers no one is talking about,” said Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com.
Butler isn’t alone in wondering not only which team will select him in April’s draft, but where he might play at the next level. Teammate Daniel Te’o-Nesheim was a defensive end for the Huskies, and set a school record with 30 sacks.
But while some teams are looking at him as an end in a 4-3, one scout said that the 267-pound Te’o-Nesheim could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 – if his coverage was limited to filling an area rather than man-to-man. Another scout said, “I like him as a football player, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit.”
Te’o-Nesheim did not lift or jump Wednesday, opting to stick with his marks from the combine (a 37-inch vertical and 29 reps). But he was timed in the mid-4.7 second range in the 40-yard dash and also displayed impressive – and somewhat surprising – athletic ability while dropping into coverage during the individual drills.
None of it surprised UW coach Steve Sarkisian.
“Daniel’s numbers are fantastic,” Sarkisian said. “But the one thing I always want to say about him is, amazing effort. I’ve never seen a guy work, practice, play the way he plays with the effort that he plays with. And it shows. That’s why he’s so productive.”
Not a word of that assessment surprised Butler, who continues to be in awe of his former teammate because of his relentless style of play.
“His motor,” Butler said when asked what will allow Te’o-Nesheim to play in the NFL. “He just goes and goes and goes – nonstop. Really, guys get tired of blocking him after awhile.”