We’re constantly reminded that anytime a football player is on a football field and he’s doing football things, a devastating injury could happen. That even applies now, in mid June with the early summer sun shining, and no pads present in each OTA or minicamp practice session. The mere act of sprinting and cutting at full speed can lead to a tear, or a break, or a shattering injury of some kind.
We’ve seen that with Melvin Ingram, the Chargers’ promising young pass rusher who tore his ACL, prompting the signing of Dwight Freeney. That trade off is a downgrade for San Diego, and its defense tasked with finding a way to lower Peyton Manning’s pocket comfort level twice every season.
Then it was Michael Crabtree, who tore his Achilles and he’ll miss most of the 2013 season. Most importantly for us and our fantasy football fiend purposes, Crabtree is now nearly useless, and he’s little more than a late-season waiver wire flier. That’s bitterly disappointing for a wide receiver who’s in the highly productive position of being Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target.
And now the latest June muscle rip doesn’t seem quite as significant at first simply because the name value is lacking. But this one hurts just the same, and depending on the corresponding move, there could be a fantasy element here too.
This time the victim is Victor Butler, the Saints defensive end/outside linebacker who tore his ACL Tuesday when he collided with running back Mark Ingram. The frailties of the football life are cruel, and just like that Butler’s 2013 season is over, and the Saints are left with the very thing signing Butler was supposed to address: a cavernous hole in their pass rush.
Butler’s career sack total (11 over four seasons) is highly deceiving. He came over to New Orleans from Dallas, where he was used in a limited role behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. That’s why he was available for a classic “prove it” deal in March when free agency started, and the Saints were set to get great value on their $3 million investment over two years.
He was on the field for only 300 snaps this past season, and just 132 of those came in pass rush situations, according to Pro Football Focus. Yet, as our boy Alen Dumonjic noted last week while breaking down Butler’s tape, he’s shown tremendous upside:
He has the talent to become a consistent, quality pass-rusher. He has a good burst, giving him the ability to cover ground quickly, and the athleticism to dip his shoulder and turn the corner. Those are things he does quite well, especially when he’s able to get his hands up and swat the blocker away.
Now any growth potential Butler had this season in Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme that he’s very familiar with is gone, and so is his opportunity to improve a Saints pass rush that was tied for a lowly 25th in the league in 2012 after taking the opposing quarterback down only 30 times. The Saints didn’t have a pass rusher with double-digit sacks, as Cameron Jordon led with eight while Will Smith had six, and no one else recorded more than five.
That’s not a good look for a defense assigned to slow Matt Ryan and his ability to connect with his many targets twice a year. Toss in two meetings with Cam Newton and the need to at least try really, really hard to keep him in the pocket with some equally mobile defenders, and this could become an inviting defense again for all your fantasy flexing and matchup play needs.
All the pressure will shift to the upgraded secondary after the additions of Kenny Vaccaro and Keenan Lewis, unless the Saints respond to losing Butler by signing John Abraham.