A three-star prospect and Scout.com’s 36th-ranked cornerback in the 2013 recruiting class, Devin Butler enters his senior season in South Bend with appearances in 37 of a potential 39 games played; three starts included therein.
Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z preview of Notre Dame’s roster continues with Butler, a senior fighting for scrimmage time entering his final collegiate campaign.
Butler wins the program’s Special Teams Player of the Year honors, an award for which he’s been in the running since his freshman season when he earned the game ball for his physical approach against Oklahoma.
Ideally Butler would serve as a backup, No. 4 or No. 5 cornerback with Cole Luke, Shaun Crawford and Nick Watkins ranking as the squad’s 1-2-3 in that regard. Considering it’s his third season in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s system, Butler could earn dime package work as well.
But Notre Dame lost its best special teamer from last season with the departure of fifth-year senior Matthias Farley – Butler’s contributions in that realm will be crucial next fall.
Butler falls into a starting job by default, a reality that struck the secondary in late 2014 and early last fall. Though the versatile veteran brings plenty to the table, he’s far better suited as a backup on the perimeter – and as a full-time special teams starter – rather than a player tasked with covering the best receivers on Notre Dame’s slate.
Butler’s first three seasons in the Irish secondary are reminiscent of Marv Spence (1984-87). Both entered their final collegiate campaign with just over 40 tackles and both contributed from the outset of their freshmen seasons, earning time as special teams players.
Spence’s career hit its apex as a senior for the 1987 Irish, starting 11 games for the 8-4 Lou Holtz-led squad after earning just nine such designations over his first three seasons.
DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING
One of just *six among 23 recruits in the 2013 class not ranked among Scout.com’s Top 300 prospects, Butler has exceeded realistic expectations. Few secondary competitors enter and exit the program as four-season contributors, and blessed with good health, Butler will graduate playing 50 games in an Irish uniform.
A bit of a tweener (neither ideally suited for cornerback or safety), Butler could have benefitted from a redshirt-season along the way and perhaps an early career move to safety where his competitiveness would have certainly forged a role considering the unit’s struggles during his tenure.
The 2016 Irish are well stocked at cornerback, with Butler either the fourth or fifth best player at the position group. That wasn’t the case when he signed on the dotted line in ’13.
(*The other six not ranked among the Top 300 from 2013 are medical casualties Doug Randolph and Michael Deeb, transfer Rashad Kinlaw, plus Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter, Jr. – the latter pair were four-star prospects likely just outside the Top 300 designation.)
BUTLER AT HIS BEST
As mentioned previously, Butler won the game ball for his special teams efforts against Oklahoma in 2013, but his most notable contribution in victory was likely a four-tackle, one interception effort as a 2014 sophomore vs. Purdue in the Shamrock Series tilt in Indianapolis.
Three of Butler’s stops kept Boilermakers from gaining first downs while his interception ended Purdue’s first drive of the fourth quarter and set up a Notre Dame field goal thereafter – the ensuing 30-14 lead held up through the game’s conclusion.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“Devin is our third corner. If we were handicapping our corners, we would not have thought that he'd be our third corner. He's had a really, really good camp. Plays with so much more confidence, speed. He's a different player than we saw last year.” – Head coach Brian Kelly prior to the start of the 2015 season.