Tennessee football: Raiders taking Matthew Butler could be biggest steal of the draft

After his production last year for Tennessee football, his proven versatility and his performances preparing for the 2022 NFL Draft, Matthew Butler was a rising star. He became Mel Kiper of ESPN’s favorite defensive lineman and a projected fourth-rounder who Kiper said should probably go higher.

Well, Butler fell to the fifth round, and it was towards the end of the fifth round at that. The Las Vegas Raiders took Butler with the 175th overall pick and four picks remaining in that round. As a result, Las Vegas may have gotten the biggest steal of the draft.

Since 2019, despite playing two different positions in two different systems, Butler has had 51 defensive stops, second among all SEC defensive linemen. Last year, he had eight and a half tackles for a loss, five sacks, a forced fumble and 47 overall tackles, 19 of which were solo.

Butler was playing defensive tackle in Tim Banks’ nickel-heavy 4-3 base defense while doing that. However, he has also played defensive end in the same scheme, when Bob Shoop was there in 2017, and he played as the one down lineman at defensive end in Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme.

Simply put, production and versatility were both selling points for Butler with Tennessee football, but then came his NFL Combine performance, where he hit all the necessary marks to score as a defensive tackle with great potential. At 6’4″ 297 pounds, somebody was bound to take the North Carolina kid.

Well, Vegas took him and got him late. They have experience with versatile defensive linemen from the Vols who overachieve, as they found Kendal Vickers, who signed with them as an undrafted free agent. Butler comes to them with more expectations, but he still is a steal.

What helps even more is Vegas needs a youth movement at defensive tackle. They added three new defensive tackles in the free agent market this offseason, but those are short-term fixes to what was a clear issue for them last year.

Butler could be a long-term fix, and he could provide depth for them in the short-term. This works out in numerous ways for both sides, and although he may not play this year, it likely won’t take long for him to see a good bit of action.

Steals from Rocky Top have been a thing in recent years, and now it’s happening in the trenches. Last year, Trey Smith was the steal, as he fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in the sixth round. Butler could end up being the same type of player this year.

By the way, Vickers isn’t the only Tennessee football defensive lineman to have success with the Raiders. Dan Williams and John Henderson both finished their careers with the Raiders. This is a place becoming notable for UT defensive linemen, and Butler continues that tradition.