Panthers select La. Tech DT Butler with 30th pick

Steve Reed
AP Sports Writer

The NFC champion Carolina Panthers selected defensive tackle Vernon Butler from Louisiana Tech with the 30th overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-3, 316-pound Butler gives the Panthers another big interior defensive lineman or "hog molly," as general manager Dave Gettleman likes to call them.

"I couldn't help my hog molly self," Gettleman said with a laugh. "We were really kind of shocked that he was there. I don't know why he fell (to No. 30). It was like my first draft here and watching Star (Lotulelei) fall to us. But the value was too good. He's big and powerful and athletic and has all of the stuff."

Butler had 50 tackles and three sacks last season as a senior and was named first-term All-Conference USA.

The Panthers came into the draft needing to fill openings at defensive end following the retirement of Jared Allen and cornerback after the departure of All-Pro Josh Norman, but Gettleman elected to add depth on the interior line.

The Panthers have Lotutelei and Kawann Short — whom Gettleman drafted in the first and second round respectively in 2013 — as their current starting defensive tackles.

The Panthers picked up the fifth-year option on Lotulelei earlier this week and are hoping to sign Short, who had 11 sacks last season, to a long-term contract before the start of next season.

Butler is an athletic player, who didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school.

His father played basketball for three years at Northeast Louisiana University in the early 1980s and was a shooting guard on a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 1982.

Gettleman said seven teams tried to trade up with the Panthers to the 30th spot.

"The deals weren't very attractive," Gettleman said. "We got on the clock and they started to up the ante, but we had made up our mind by then."

Ron Rivera said Butler is more of a 3-technique, but who can also play the nose tackle. Rivera said Butler helps fill the void created when Dwan Edwards retired after the season.

"He is explosive and powerful at the point of attack," Rivera said. "We most certainly do see the upside."

Rivera said Butler doesn't have big sack numbers, but he likes the way he impacts the game.

"You can't go strictly by the numbers," It is about do they help other people make plays. This kid not only has the ability to create, but to finish too."

Rivera also liked Butler's ability to retain information during interviews with him and feels he will pick up the scheme quickly. Rivera said he expects Butler to be a part of the rotation right away.

The Panthers didn't strongly consider drafting a defensive end because Gettleman feels they have "good, young, raw talent" at that position, even with Charles Johnson getting older and Allen retiring.

Gettleman also said he anticipates the Panthers will draft a cornerback at some point this weekend to help replace Norman.