For the past two seasons, Jeremy Butler has been a standout wide receiver for the UT-Martin Skyhawks, but as an FCS prospect with a convoluted history, he is widely unknown to most draftniks.
In a recent interview with Butler, I received a firsthand insight to the adversity and triumph college athletes experience in their pursuit of a dream that few deserve and even fewer achieve. Jeremy Butler has definitely made a great case over his college career to why he should get a shot.
Currently, Butler is training at Solus Performance Training facility in Jackson, TN, where he is focusing on improving his explosion, as well as fine tuning his movement skills in anticipation for UT-Martin’s pro day on March 18.
While at Booker High School in Sarasota, FL, Butler played three years on the varsity squad, but primarily as a defensive end. It was not until his senior campaign that he took snaps at wide receiver. Butler explained that he was not offered any full scholarships and opted for the JUCO route where he played at Reedy College (CA) in 2009 and College of the Sequoias (CA) in 2010. It was here that Butler commanded attention from Division 1 schools as he blossomed as a wide receiver. Butler had originally committed to play ball at Colorado, his “dream college.” However, an “issue with credits” prevented the transfer. Butler also received major interest from Louisiana Tech, but again, faced complications in his transfer. Louisiana Tech had already committed their full scholarships to other players. ”I definitely found out there was a business side to it all,” Butler remarks.
Butler was signed to a partial scholarship and played spring ball with the Bulldogs in 2011. Ultimately, Butler decided to transfer to UT-Martin, who had offered him a full ride from the start.
“They were committed to me through the whole process, and I respected that.”
Butler’s transfer to UT-Martin forced him to sit out the entire 2011 football season. When asked how his year off affected him as a person, Butler conveyed an insatiable tenacity.
“The year off was the best thing that happened to me in my life. It taught me how to be a man. I am a living testament for if you want something you go get it. You got to control what you can control and do what you got to do.”
During his junior campaign in 2012, Butler earned 750 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 51 catches. Butler’s best performance came against the Murray State Racers where he gained 177 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns on 8 catches in a 66-59 victory.
Butler admits he might have had a little luck on his side that day:
“My best friend texted me before the game and told me he had a dream I was going to get 3 TD’s... I had 3 at the half. When I got back out there I just wanted to see how much I could get.”
Butler also claims this epic performance as his most defining and favorite memory while at UT-Martin declaring “It finally felt liked I belonged at the college level.”
The 2013 campaign for the UT-Martin Skyhawks was headlined by uncertainty at the quarterback position. Former three-year starter Derek Carr was now a graduate assistant, which left starting duties to be split between sophomore Jarod Neal and junior Dylan Favre. Butler took this extra bit of adversity as an opportunity to become a mentor.
“I just told them you can trust me, I’m going to be where I need to be, if you put the ball on me, I’ll catch it... I was a big safety blanket for them... They were younger and I was helping them learn the offense a little bit. “
And the game tape shows exactly that. Butler assumed the same role that Mike Evans had for Johnny Manziel: a safety net and deep threat. Butler demonstrated his ability to find and sit in the holes on zone coverage as well as the ability to get open on broken plays. Furthermore, while acting as Neal and Favre’s safety blanket, Butler demonstrated fantastic catch radius and body control.
Overall, Butler racked up 1203 yards and 10 touchdowns on 90 catches during his senior year. Even with these impressive numbers, Butler admits he was not physically imposing to FCS defensive backs and had the most trouble against Tennessee State corner De’Ante Saunders, a University of Florida transfer. Butler explained that most corners he had faced prior played more off man and zone coverage, but Saunders was the first to play him man-to-man the all game.
“Most guys kind of just back off, but he let me know from the first snap that he was going to compete. He was talking, trying to get in my head. He really pushed me.”
As challenging as Butler makes Saunders out to be, he still came out of the match up with 10 catches, 129 yards and a touchdown.
The most interesting part about talking with Butler is that despite his years of tremendous production at the D-1 level, earning 2012 OVC newcomer of the year and 2013 2nd Team All-OVC honors, he still feels like he has a chip on his shoulder. When asked how he would feel once he puts an NFL jersey on for the first time he explained that:
“To an extent, that all my hard work paid off, but it will feel like my legacy is just starting. I want to be the best and I’m not afraid to say that. I’m ready to get my name known. I’ll have butterflies, but at the same time it will be time to make my mark.”
I pointed out to him that if he had two years with his current stat line, but at Louisiana Tech, the scouting community would be clamoring about him as a mid-round pick. Butler addressed that remark when I asked him if he were a GM, where would he select Jeremy Butler:
“I would take me #1 overall. I would look over the whole big school, small school. Once you put on the film it’s pretty much the same at every level. How you catch, run routes, all that is the same... Once you get on an even playing field, all the hype falls through.”
One of Butler’s biggest assets is his potential at the next level. He is an extremely physical receiver off the line and is very hard to tackle with the ball in his hands not because he is overly quick, but because he fights through defenders for extra yardage. Butler is also projected to run in the sub 4.5’s and has demonstrated on tape that he can stretch the seams. And all of this arising from limited experience at the position.
Butler has garnered attention from at least eight NFL teams and has had been contacted personally by the Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers, and San Francisco 49ers to inform him that they will be watching him at UT-Martin’s pro day.
It is not surprising to see San Francisco showing interest in Butler since his physical play and reliability as a pass catcher reminds me of current 49er receiver Anquan Boldin. While it is not realistic at this point to say Butler will be drafted as high as Boldin was, it is fair to say that whoever decides to take a chance on Jeremy Butler will receive highly determined player with the potential to be a contributor on offense.
Butler will also be participating at Vanderbilt’s pro day on March 21, where he will work out with top receiver prospect Jordan Matthews.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.