The 2008 defensive backfield was atrocious, abominable, horrible, disgusting, awful, and every possible adjective you could think of that is synonymous to bad. So what do the Patriots do? They rebuild the cornerback position. With Mike Richardson as the longest tenured Patriot cornerback, its safe to assume that coach Belichick has had enough.
So what does he do?
Belichick gets Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden via free agency but he doesn't stop there, with the Patriots third pick in the 2009 draft, he picks Darius Butler from UConn then he ships Ellis Hobbs to Philadelphia for two fifth-rounders and later signs undrafted FA Jamar Love. That much tells you how disgusted Belichick was at the corner position.
The highest expectations though are on Darius Butler who was considered a steal at 41. A player who a lot of scouting experts compare to former Patriot Asante Samuel.
So how do these two players compare with each other? Let's take a look at the scouting report on these two guys from Pro Football Weekly.
Here is PFW's take on Darius Butler
(5-10 3⁄8, 183, 4.46)
Positives: Outstanding foot quickness. Excellent, natural athletic ability with an outstanding, 43-inch vertical. Loose-hipped. Pedals smoothly, transitions and pops out of his breaks with little wasted movement. Explosive—broad-jumped 13 feet, four inches at the Combine. Excelled in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl.
Sticks to receivers in man coverage. Good zone awareness. Attacks the ball in the air like a receiver. Showed very good hands and ball skills when lined up as a receiver. Has return ability. Has NFL bloodlines.
Negatives: Is very thin-framed, weak and will shy and turn down contact. Narrow-hipped with a thin frame. Does not support the run. Hits like a marshmallow. Gives up too much separation. Gets beat more than he makes plays on the ball — zero interceptions as a senior.
Was abused by Rutgers WR Kenny Britt and could struggle to handle big receivers. Soft playing temperament could always lend itself to durability issues.
Here is PFW's analysis on Asante Samuel in 2003
(5-10, 185, 4.51)
Positives: Very good quick-twitch athlete with quick feet and good balance. Can peddle and turn without losing much in transition. Shows good ball skills and breaks on the ball well. Has decent hands, returns punts with vision and has shown skill as a kick blocker.
Negatives: Average at best versus the run and does not tackle that well. Quicker-than-fast player who does not have great makeup speed. Tends to leave a lot of cushion when in pass coverage. Seems to have a hard time catching punts at times and tends to catch them off to the side.
If you look at closely, Butler's 40 was better than Samuel's (4.46 vs 4.51) but it wasn't speed that made Asante one of the best cornerbacks in the league. It was the great ball instincts that he had and taking on chances to make a big time play.
Another difference is that Samuel was always willing to make big hits on those bigger receivers which cannot be said of Butler.
It is also interesting to note that Butler is very lanky. One wonders if he needs to add at least 5-10 pound before the training camp starts.
Overall, I'd say he is an upgrade over Jason Webster, Deltha O'neal, Lewis Sanders and perhaps Ellis Hobbs of 2008 cornerbacks past. Only time will tell though if he could be as great as Asante Samuel.