April 20, 2010
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE -- Measurable traits will never be the end-all in the evaluation of NFL draft prospects. But toss up some eye-catching numbers and wanted attention can follow.
Linebacker Donald Butler is a perfect example.
When his senior season at Washington started, Butler was considered at best a late-round pick by someone looking for an athlete who has played multiple linebacker positions.
Now as this week's draft approaches, Butler's pre-draft workouts have him hearing second- or third-round attached to his name. One pundit even had Butler as a late first-round pick and called him the "best inside linebacker" in the draft. He could become the highest drafted linebacker from Washington in 24 years.
"It feels good. It's been a blessing in the fact I've been able to go out there and compete at the highest collegiate level aside from the BCS or another big bowl game," Butler said. "The Senior Bowl you get a nice set of guys to go out there and compete. ... It solidifies that (Washington) has players other than Jake Locker."
Most of Butler's college career at Washington was forgettable. He won just nine games his first two seasons before the Huskies' 0-12 campaign in 2008 that cost Tyrone Willingham his job and left an indelible stain on the Washington program.
The Huskies rebounded to go 5-7 in Butler's senior season, the first under coach Steve Sarkisian. But the number of losses was a barrier Butler had to overcome during his pre-draft workouts, despite 94 tackles, two interceptions and second-team all-Pac-10 honors as a senior.
Still, Butler has a chance to be the highest-drafted linebacker from Washington since Joe Kelly was a first-round pick in 1986. The Huskies haven't seen a defensive player taken in the first-round since defensive tackle Steve Emtman and cornerback Dana Hall were each first-round picks in 1992.
"As a player you understand it's going to be that much harder to make it coming from a program that isn't winning as much," Butler said. "None of us in our class or the previous classes came thinking we wouldn't win a game. We came understanding that (Washington) is a very historic program. It hurts. You put so much in during the week and then don't get that couple hours of glory on that Saturday night or Saturday afternoon. You stay strong and you work through it."
And if you throw up impressive bench press numbers at the NFL combine, then you're able to overcome some questions about your college career.
It's one of the static tests done on every player during the pre-draft evaluations. And Butler's 35 reps at the combine caught the attention of everyone there.
It was the most by any linebacker and trailed only offensive linemen Mitch Petrus (45) and Russell Okung (38), and defensive linemen Jeff Owens (44) and Linval Joseph (39) among all those who tested in Indianapolis.
Ultimately the results of tests like the bench press and 40-yard dash mean nothing if the on-field skills aren't there. If Butler can't fill gaps and stop the run, or drop into coverage and defend a receiver, then his bench numbers are worthless.
"It probably turned some heads. But in the end it comes down to how you perform on the field," Butler said. "They could see that I was very productive this year and I can do some things. It probably helped to turn some heads, but if it's not on the film it's not going to happen."
Butler is one of two draft prospects for the Huskies, joining defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who is expected to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Next year plenty of focus will be on the Huskies program with quarterback Jake Locker expected to be a high first-round pick, if not the No. 1 overall pick.
Sarkisian believes the attention Butler and Te'o-Nesheim have gained, along with the acclaim for Locker, are beneficial in his attempts to rebuild the Huskies program.
"The goal is next year there are more guys working out and there are more guys here to watch them, and the next year there's even more guys working out and more guys here to watch," Sarkisian said. "I don't know if it's a direct indication of how good you are as a football program, but it is somewhat a direct indication of the type of players you have."