Louisiana Tech is not exactly known as a football powerhouse, but their presence in the NFL cannot be denied. There are 11 former Bulldogs currently in the NFL and three currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The latest prospect from the C-USA team making headlines is defensive tackle Vernon Butler, whom the Bengals will reportedly will work out privately, per Walter Football and other sources.
The workout is reportedly on Thursday.
DT from Louisiana Tech, Vernon Butler tells us he has a visit with the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) March 28, 2016
Butler is projected to go fairly early in this year's draft, but that's by no means a safe bet. Some draft ranking sites have him going as high as the mid-first round, but there are so many quality defensive lineman in this year's draft that he could slide as far as the late second or early third round.
Butler has drawn comparisons to Muhammad Wilkerson as a lengthy player who still has the bulk to pack a punch, but he's also drawn the unfortunate criticism of being a player who doesn't always give 100 percent. He also doesn't put up the kind of production that his talent would suggest. You might remember similar things being said about Carlos Dunlap prior to him being drafted, and well all know he proved his critics wrong.
Butler performed well at the Combine, although more so because he showed improvement rather than blowing anyone away with his performance. The Bengals may have been impressed by this and decided to take a closer look at him on the off-chance that he falls to them at a reasonable position in the draft. Will they take him at No. 24 if he's still available? Probably not. But, if he happens to make a fall to No. 55, they might jump at the golden opportunity with Butler playing a position with so many question marks currently for Cincinnati.
Defensive tackle is a fairly substantial need for the Bengals going into the 2016 season. Geno Atkins returned to form after a torn ACL in 2013 and a slow recovery in 2014, but there isn't really a true star next to him in the starting lineup. Domata Peko has played fairly well, but he's going to be 32 in November.
Beyond him, the Bengals are rolling with the recently re-signed Brandon Thompson and Pat Sims, as well as developmental young players in DeShawn Williams and Marcus Hardison. The Bengals drafted Hardison in the 2015 draft as a flexible lineman who could play any position on the line. Williams, on the other hand, was not drafted, but he was one of the biggest stories of training camp last year as an impressive undrafted rookie who eventually did enough to make the Practice Squad. However, unless Hardison or Williams make huge strides this year, it's unlikely that there will be anyone on the roster who can take pressure away from Atkins up front.
There may be a few other Louisiana Tech prospects that the Bengals may be keeping in their peripheral vision. Quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Kenneth Dixon are both projected to taken in the draft this year. The Bengals likely aren't looking too closely at running backs, especially a player like Dixon who could be taken as early as the second round. However, a potential seventh rounder or priority free agent like Driskel could be exactly the kind of camp arm that the Bengals are looking for to keep Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron fresh.
Depending on what the Bengals want to do at wide receiver, you could realistically see defensive tackle as a first or second round need, which is where Butler is projected to be drafted. If they want to be patient with him, they could get lucky and see him drop to pick No. 55. Though, many mock drafts have him being taken off the board in the mid-to-late first round. Then again, no one thought P.J. Dawson would be available at pick No. 99 last year.