Tennessee's Matthew Butler is a fifth-year senior that enters the 2022 NFL Draft after experiencing a career-best season in 2021. Butler took a massive step forward while performing as one of the highest-rated defensive tackles in the SEC. Butler is now firmly on the NFL's radar after recording 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks while playing an SEC-best 726 defensive snaps. Butler then traveled to Vegas for the East-West Shrine Game. Opposing offensive linemen struggled to deal with his power and quickness as a pass rusher and run stopper as Butler continuously stood out during one-v-one reps in practice. Now very much viewed as an ascending prospect, Butler recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his experiences at the East-West Shrine Bowl, which NFL teams and scouts he met with at the all-star event, why his production took a leap forward this past season, and so much more. JM: You took a big step forward as a fifth-year senior in 2021 by recording career-highs in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (5). What changed for you this past season? MB: I definitely appreciated the way the coaching staff utilized me in 2021. I really enjoyed our philosophies on the defensive side of the ball. In general, I would credit my overall dedication to my craft. I’ve always been a hard worker and I’ve always placed my trust in the process. We can talk about guys having epiphanies and putting it all together, but I’ve always believed I was on the right path to success. I wouldn’t say that I’ve put it all together just yet, though. I still feel like I can make immense strides throughout the rest of my career. Whoever drafts me is going to get a player that obviously understands how to improve. It can be a bit cliche, but it’s what happened for me at Tennessee. I consistently got better. JM: The tape is undeniable. You played 726 defensive snaps for the Volunteers this past season, which ranks first among all SEC defenders. How did you handle such a workload? It also speaks volumes about your conditioning and ability to stay healthy. MB: I think there was only one other interior defensive player in all of college football that matched my number of snaps. It’s all about taking care of your body both physically and mentally. It’s important to create balance. I allow myself time to think about other things. When I’m in that arena and in that footballing headspace, it’s all about football. In addition to creating the right balance mentally, I would credit my diet as well and the overall way I treat my body. When I’m in those facilities and it’s time for football, that’s what I’m focused on. When it’s time to get away from that, I’ll allow myself to watch some television or play some video games. You have to strike the right balance. I’m always trying to learn about how our bodies and muscles function. I obviously try to avoid putting the wrong things in my body. I don’t drink alcohol, for example. Some people might feel like it may work for them, and that’s up to them at the end of the day. For me, it doesn’t work for me and I don’t see the benefit in that. When we’re in the middle of the season, I’m in business mode. I have a high understanding of what my body needs. I don’t put anything in my body that might hinder my performance. JM: You obviously have an extremely high understanding of how to maximize your performance. You recently participated in the East-West Shrine Bowl, where you were a standout performer throughout practice. What was that experience like? MB: That was a great experience. I participated in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in high school. I’ve known and understood the importance of the Shrine Bowl for a while now. As far as the bigger picture goes for us draft prospects, the actual football aspect of it, I feel like I was one of the best players in attendance, and was quite possibly the best player there. It gave me an opportunity to show how dynamic I can be. Quite frankly, there were a lot of good players there, but I played against SEC competition every single week. I’m used to playing against opponents that were just as good, if not subjectively better than what I encountered at the Shrine Bowl. Whether they were better or not is up for healthy debate, but I was playing against that same level of competition or better every week in the SEC. I showed up in great shape and I was ready to compete. I proved myself as a defensive lineman. Going up against those grown competitors was a lot of fun. It was another week of football and a terrific showcase. I was working out for the combine well before I showed up at the Shrine Bowl. It was another week of football before we really get down to the nitty-gritty here, in terms of combine preparation and testing. JM: You had a terrific week by all accounts. You were unblockable out there. Did you meet with many teams in attendance? Did any teams show interest in you in particular? MB: I met with roughly 29 teams. I believe there were only two or three teams I didn’t meet with. I probably had contact with all 32 teams in some capacity via subtle exchanges such as brief contact, exchanging information, and so on. I would get stopped in the hallway by a scout and have a brief discussion. I spoke with almost every team. If I didn’t speak with every team, I counted maybe 29 teams or so that I truly sat down with and had an in-depth meeting over the course of the week. That leaves just a few teams I didn’t have a meeting with. I can’t remember every team, but I can think of a few off the top of my head. I met with the Jets, Giants, Buccaneers, Titans, Saints, Raiders, Bears, and Texans. Those are just a few off the top of my head. I remember those teams very specifically for one reason or another, but it doesn’t mean any meetings went better than the others. I had some great conversations. We got to learn about each other throughout the process. JM: You were an extremely popular guy. When I asked you what changed for you in 2021, you were quick to point to the coaching you received. It sounds like you had a terrific relationship with defensive line coach Rodney Garner. MB: I had a great relationship with coach Garner. Going in, I got an excellent vibe from him from the first moment he was hired. I was ready to step up my game one way or another and he helped me take things to the next level. It was always going to be a do-or-die situation for me in my final season of college football. It was my last one. I had to go out there and seize my opportunity, seize my moment. I’ve always gone hard, though. I’ve always been a hustle and effort player in addition to my technical ability and strength. I had to dig deep and find that extra gear. I felt really good with coach Garner. We were on the same page. I stepped onto the field every weekend as a player that was highly aware of everything that was going on within our defense. I understood all of the nuances of the game. He worked with me so that we felt that way at the beginning of the season so we didn’t have to correct things after the fact. It definitely paid off. We took it to that next level. I knew our opponent every week. I gained a new understanding of football, a more advanced understanding. I went out there and things became a habit to me. I didn’t have to go out there and overthink. Coach Garner did a great job teaching the process and everything that goes into that. I took advantage of that. As I go through this process, teams are going to pull my tape throughout the interview process and I’m going to be able to break that film down. This is what happened and this is why it happened. I was within my element. I have a high football IQ, so I know why I did what I did and I know why we played things that way. If people are pulling up my plays and talking about them and whatnot, I have an explanation for why things happened that way, while also realizing I could always do something better on any given play. There are so many reasons why I was able to make every play I made. It was really cool to experience that sort of environment in football. That’s what coach Garner brought to the program. JM: That’s an extremely thorough explanation. I appreciate that. We saw it on tape all season long. I’ve really appreciated your time today. Why should a team use one of their draft picks on Matthew Butler? MB: I have a great floor and an even higher ceiling. I’m only going to get better from where I’m at now. I’m never going to be content. You can ask around. I know there are people out there who didn’t initially believe in my game. What you saw on film in 2021 is what you’re going to get, and more. I can lead. I’m a leader of men. I’m going to add something valuable to the culture. We’ll analyze things five, 10, 15 years from now. We’ll see what I’ve done and I’m sure people will forever analyze this draft class. I’m my biggest motivator. There’s no risk involved with drafting me.
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