What do you do when your training camp darling isn’t named De’Vante Harris or TommyLee Lewis? Well, of course you celebrate. Saints fans have a recent history of watching a player gather a ton of hype throughout training camp only to disappoint come the regular season. However this year, things feel a little different.
There’s no doubt at all that Emmanuel Butler has been this year’s standout UDFA so far in the first three days of Training Camp and while it’s early, the hype revolving around the 6’3″ 217-pound wide receiver feels equal parts electric and reliable. Larry Holder of the Athletic picked Butler as his dark horse to make the roster after the final preseason game. There is still a ways to go to know if he is indeed right about that, but for now it is looking promising.
The former Northern Arizona Lumberjack has made highlight catch after highlight catch and is consistently mentioned by multiple sources as being eye-popping or attention-stealing. Alongside another new face Cyril Grayson, Butler has quick jumped to the front of every Who Dat’s mind when asked which receivers should be kept on the 53-man roster come the end of August. Butler is a two-time All-American, holds the single-season receiving yards record at NAU with 1,208 in 2015, and ranks first in career receiving yards and touchdowns at the school as well. He did miss a large portion of 2017 with a season-ending shoulder injury in his second game of the season, but he played a healthy 2018 and is clear standout in New Orleans heading into 2019.
While Butler’s camp has been impressive so far, going back and checking out what little college film can be found of him evokes even more excitement. The Phoenix, AZ native played all along the Lumberjacks offense; split out wide, stacked with other receivers, and also taking snaps from the slot. He was the number one option in his offense in which he caught 7 of only 16 touchdowns thrown and accounted for 676 of the team’s 2,019 passing yardage. Needless to say, Butler did not have the most reliable signal callers at NAU, but still made the most of it playing in 9 of their 10 games last season. Now, he’s got Drew Brees throwing to him. So when you see all the places he likes to line up, his versatility, and even his work as a blocker, those are all elements of the game that are going to garner him some respect and trust from the Saints QB and Coach Payton.
Another layer of Butler’s play that sticks out on film in his attitude and work ethic. Even though he is the center focal point for the offense, you can watch him manage to still make it tough for opposing defenses with his length and athletic ability. He did not run the 40 at the NFL combine but he did add a 36″ vertical leap to display his explosiveness. He is the type of receiver that can make a play on the ball even when everyone expects it. He loves when he wins and hates when he loses, but never to his team’s detriment. For example, in a game in 2016 against Eastern Washington (should mention that NAU does not play top competition, of course) he was doubled on a fade route at the goal line and the ball was intercepted over the top. Butler was knocked to the ground in the process of coming down, noticed the interception, leapt up, and chased down the DB to turn a potential touchdown into a return that didn’t even cross midfield. That type of work ethic and “never-give-up” attitude will take the rookie a long way.
It remains to be seen whether or not Butler maintains his upward trend. Perhaps what will be more interesting to see is how he responds to a more challenging practice. Once he has a practice that does not go over so well and is met with some criticism, it will be telling to see what happens the next time he suits up. Butler mentioned in his post-day 3 presser that he has always had a chip on his shoulder. Butler didn’t receive offers to play college ball, didn’t have a great combine, and was not selected in the NFL draft. All of that for him, he says, is enjoyable and helps him take the next step. He also mentioned that he started modeling his game after former Saints Great Marques Colston after being compared to him by a Saints scout. Colston was drafted in the 7th round of the 2006 NFL draft out of Hofstra University. Small school, not a highly touted draft pick (or one at all for that matter), towering physical presence, and versatility all describe both receivers. Although the Saints WR coaches did not have a express their vision for the young wideout, he looks at Michael Thomas as a clear example of how someone with his size, build, and physicality can excel in New Orleans. Butler will need to draw on his “bingeing” of Coslton and continue to learn from current Saints wideouts to maintain his upward trajectory and potentially land a spot on the roster Week 1.