Patriots: Malcolm Butler Will Lead the League in Interceptions


Malcolm Butler has the opportunity to become a star for the Patriots. One step towards stardom would be leading the league in interceptions.

Flashback to preseason 2014, an undrafted rookie cornerback from the University of West Alabama impressed the coaching staff and made the most of his opportunities. We all know what happened when he burst onto the scene in the biggest game of his career, Super Bowl XLIX. However, with Malcolm Butler recording a historic interception came large expectations for him, and he was set to prove that he was a true number one cornerback.

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Last season we witnessed something great come from a bad situation: Butler was forced into the top spot on the depth chart after the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Kyle Arrington. He was not going to be only remembered for one of the best plays in NFL history; he wanted to solidify his spot as an NFL cornerback. He constantly stood up to the test of facing elite receivers such as Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., and NFL players, coaches, and fans saw Butler massively progress.

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Butler started all 16 games for the Patriots in 2015, and he earned himself a Pro Bowl bid. “Strap” was known for his incredible ball skills and found himself inches away from doubling or even tripling his two total interceptions last season. Butler often missed huge plays by a matter of half a second, but in just his second season, he has laid the foundation for a successful career.

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Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports /

Next season, the Patriots will face talented receiver corps such as with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, and more. An essential defensive scheme for the Patriots has been placing the second cornerback, Logan Ryan, and the free safety, Devin McCourty, on an opposing offensive threat and completely eliminating him from the game. This process has worked tremendously in the past, and it will more than likely be continued next season, setting Butler up for a large portion of the targets.

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With the potential to have plenty of targets come his way in this upcoming season, and following a year gained in experience as a starting NFL cornerback, the pieces are there for Butler to lead the league in interceptions. The last Patriot to earn that honor? Arrington, who tied for first with seven interceptions in 2011.

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According to NESN’s Doug Kyed, Butler was targeted the most on the Patriots, allowing 50 receptions on 99 targets. Butler allowed a lackluster seven touchdowns on the season; however, the skills to drastically reduce that number were evident. In addition, he led the Patriots’ cornerbacks with a 15.2 percent ball skill rate (pass breakups plus interceptions per cover snap).

With Belichick’s increasing trust, Butler will be put in more man-to-man situations with little to no help around him. Quarterbacks will be tempted to test the young playmaker, and we should see an increase in targets and ball skill rate. The Patriots will face a variety of signal callers this next season, from veteran gunslingers Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger to unproven leaders Jared Goff and Tyrod Taylor, yet they all have something in common: they will hope to shred the supposed number one cornerback in New England.

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The Patriots were a top-ten unit in rushing yards allowed last season, and Pro Football Focus ranked them as the fourth-best run defense. After the addition of run-stuffer Terrance Knighton, the Patriots should look to boost that ferocious run defense, forcing opposing teams to favor the pass. Once again, who will they most likely look towards? The receiver trailed by Ryan and McCourty? The tight end covered by the same Patrick Chung that held Travis Kelce to 23 yards? No, not likely. They’ll take their chances against the undrafted free agent, and that’s their mistake.

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Due to all these factors, it’s not impossible to see a scenario where Butler leads the league in interceptions. The cornerback has been defying the odds since his time at Popeyes, and he’ll be given even more free roam this upcoming season.