In Notre Dame’s signing Class of 2013 – a group of 23 – 19 of the players ranked by Scout were four- or five-star prospects, led by linebacker Jaylon Smith.
The four three-star prospects were linebackers Doug Randolph and Michael Deeb, and defensive backs Rashad Kinlaw (no longer enrolled at Notre Dame) and Butler, the 6-foot-1, 187-pounder out of Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C.
Although rated as the No. 36 cornerback in the country, Butler was the top prospect at his position in the Washington D.C. area. The Irish won a battle with the Big Ten when it secured an early-April, 2012 verbal commitment from Butler, who chose Notre Dame over Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin.
Butler helped lead Gonzaga to an 8-3 record his senior season as a cornerback/receiver/kick returner after starting as a safety during his sophomore year and then converting to cornerback as a junior. He had 46 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes broken up as a senior.
Butler forms a backup cornerback duo with sophomore Nick Watkins, who earned first-team reps ahead of Butler in the spring as Notre Dame awaited the return of KeiVarae Russell, who will team up at first-team cornerback with junior Cole Luke. Butler – who has played in 25 of the 26 games he’s been at Notre Dame, including two starts as a sophomore – is a candidate for work as a dime back, which he played at times in ’14.
Butler slips to the No. 4 cornerback in the rotation behind Russell, Luke and Watkins, or perhaps even No. 5 if true freshman Shaun Crawford emerges. If Butler were to fall that far on the cornerback depth chart, however, it could work in his/Notre Dame’s favor, thus allowing Butler to transition to safety, where he played early in his prep career and where the Irish need depth. In this instance, the worst-case scenario could prove to be in Butler’s best long-term interests.
In terms of three-star cornerback prospects that made an early contribution to the program, the most recent comparison to Butler would be Florida’s Lo Wood, who made 155 special teams appearances as a freshman and snagged his first career interception as a sophomore (a 57-yard return for a score against Maryland in ’11). Another comparison would be former three-star Leo Ferrine (Springfield, N.J.), who did not play as a freshman in ’04, but played in all 13 games as a sophomore, finishing with 22 tackles and his first career interception.
As one of only four three-star prospects in the signing Class of 2012, Butler has far exceeded the other three on the Irish roster in terms of playing time and productivity. He’s played in all but one of the 26 games he’s been on the Notre Dame roster, and he’s been an integral part of Notre Dame’s special teams for two seasons while logging significant minutes in the Irish secondary in ’14. There’s a tendency to look beyond Butler for an upgrade, but he’s been productive beyond his original projection.
Although he had a career-high six solo stops and a pass breakup against USC in the second of his two career starts, Notre Dame was riddled by USC’s 372 yards passing. He also had two tackles and a pair of pass breakups in his first career start against Arizona State. His most effective performance in a victory came against Purdue (Game Three) when he had four tackles and his first/only career interception on the collegiate level.
“Nick Watkins has taken a big step up this spring. He’s ascending in a sense that I don’t want to put (him) in a category where (he’s) ready to start for us, but he’s put himself in position to challenge Devin Butler to the point where he’s equaled out the reps over there.”
-- Brian Kelly