By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Malcolm Butler had a heck of a “prove it” year in his first season as the lead dog in the Patriots secondary. After proving that he can play at a high level for a full season, what’s his ceiling now? It’s easy to predict a regression, but what if he got even better?
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick clearly sounds like there’s still room for improvement in Butler’s game, even after taking a big step forward in 2015. This year, the argument with Butler will be “Yeah he’s good, but is he Darrelle Revis/Richard Sherman/Patrick Peterson good?” I know that sounds outrageous, but Butler is still just 26 years old and if Belichick’s comments to reporters at Tuesday’s Patriots-Saints joint practice are any indication, it’s within the realm of possibility that Butler makes that leap.
“Malcolm works hard. He’s gotten better each year. He’s certainly way ahead of where he was last year at this time, which was way ahead of where he was his rookie year at this time,” said Belichick. “He’s a hard-working kid that has shown steady improvement, he really competes well on the field, he wants to get better.”
It’s clear that Butler wants to get better. He definitely has that kind of attitude about himself, which you love to see in any pro athlete. But WILL he? If he’s going to make another step toward that elite tier of NFL cornerbacks, he’s going to need to take on even more responsibility in 2015.
“His roles have expanded in terms of playing on both sides, playing inside, and I’d say his overall coverage and understanding and technique and the variety of things he can do at a proficient level has continued to expand and grow,” Belichick continued. “He’s done a good job for us and continues to get better.”
To be fair, Butler did not have his best day on Tuesday at the first Patriots-Saints joint practice. New Orleans receiver Brandin Cooks outplayed him in one-on-one drills, but as usual Butler had the right outlook on it.
Hopefully, for the Patriots’ sake, Butler really has improved this year as much as Belichick said he has compared to 2015. If the defense suddenly had a new Revis to go along with all their offseason additions and the Dont’a Hightowers and Jamie Collinses and Malcom Browns of the world also taking a step forward … the unit could be something special.
One more thing … if Butler really does turn out to be as great as it sounds, he’s going to really get paid. And he would be worth every cent.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.