Only 12 months ago, soon-to-be Super Bowl XLIX savior Malcolm Butler was preparing for his pro day. But the numbers the Division II cornerback would ultimately post at it failed to paint the full picture.
Butler was clocked running a 4.62-second 40-yard dash. Yet neither that time, nor the others he clocked that day, kept the New England Patriots from looking further into the unknown prospect with unremarkable athletic metrics.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explained the process to Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on Sirius XM College Sports Nation’s Basketball and Beyond with Coach K.
“When we scouted him at West Alabama, the information on him wasn’t accurate, and somehow or other his times and athleticism kind of got lost in the shuffle as sort of a slower corner that was just an OK athlete,” Belichick said.
Butler stepped in a hair under 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds as an invite to the University of Alabama’s March 12 pro day, where he stood in the shadows of eight future Crimson Tide draft selections. In addition to his 4.62 40-time, he was on the books for a 2.75 20-yard dash, a 1.62 10-yard dash, a 4.27 20-yard shuttle and a 7.20 three-cone drill.
New England’s personnel and scouting departments took those measurables with little more worth than the ink they expended on paper. But Butler, who had played just two seasons of high school football and was later dismissed from the Hinds Community College football team, would not be taken over the course of the 2014 NFL draft thenceforth.
He would get a call instead.
“After the draft, we signed a lot of free agents and we had really no spots on our roster and we invited about 20 players who weren’t drafted in for a weekend workout,” Belichick said. “He was one of those players, and in order to sign him to our roster we had to release somebody that we had already scouted and put on our team.”
Butler, ranked as the 89th overall cornerback prospect and 910th overall player by NFLDraftScout.com, was officially signed by New England on May 19.
There was something there.
“We just thought that Malcolm would be able to be competitive based on his athleticism and ball skills and how quickly he picked things up in the couple days that he was with us,” Belichick added. “We didn’t even have a roster spot, we created one.”
Rookie tight end Tyler Beck and first-year long snapper Charley Hughlett were released from the Patriots’ 90-man roster four days prior to Butler’s addition. Rookie linebacker James Morris was also waived with a failed-physical designation one day after.
Butler, though, stayed on it long after.
“He came in and he played well in the spring, carried that over into training camp, ended up making the roster and was on and off the roster at different times during the year,” Belichick recalled.
The 24-year-old Vicksburg, Miss., native shared a No. 29 jersey with running back Roy Finch before cracking the Patriots’ 53. He went on to secure an active spot for 12 games during the regular season, switching to No. 21 following the release of sixth-round defensive back Jemea Thomas in late August. And from there, behind the likes of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard, he went on to become a core special-teamer while filtering into the defensive backfield for 15 tackles and three pass deflections over 187 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
But Butler’s best did not arrive until Feb. 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.
The lone undrafted rookie on the roster replaced Arrington as the nickel corner for the second half. He registered three tackles and allowed two catches on six targets for 39 yards in result. Yet the last target proved to be deciding one.
It saw him called onto the field by safeties coach Brian Flores for a three-cornerback package with 26 seconds remaining. It saw him intercept what was a one-yard pass to Ricardo Lockette away from being a 31-28 game. It saw him become the hero.
And a 40-time had no part in why.
“He kept competing. He kept getting better,” Belichick said. “And from West Alabama to Arizona in the Super Bowl is a long way. But he did it with a lot of hard work and he had an opportunity and he took advantage of it. So, it is really kind of a dream story for him and, you know, for all kids that play sports.”
Butler still hasn’t awoken from it.