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2017 NFL Draft: Michigan TE Jake Butt could be value pick for Dolphins


Jake Butt welcomes the doubters. He almost sounds like he appreciates them more than those who actually believe he’ll pull this off.

Coming off his second major knee injury, a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl, he’s striving for a comeback with a little over a month left until the NFL Draft. As he powers through his rehab, he savors everyone who thinks he can’t do it.

“I’ve built my career on people doubting me—came out of high school a skinny kid, not a lot of people expected me to have the career that I had at Michigan,” Butt said. “Now there’s people out here that don’t expect me to ever play in the NFL.

“I save those tweets that I see. I got them screenshotted and stowed away. If I ever get tired, I guarantee I’ll be doing a couple extra reps for those people.”

He was projected as one of the top tight ends in last year’s draft class had he chosen to go pro and unknowingly paid a sizable price by returning to the Wolverines for his senior season. After clawing back from a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee as a sophomore, he’s going through a similar process in the same knee.

Butt underwent surgery in January and wasn’t able to participate in any drills at this month’s NFL Combine. He’s still a month away from being able to run and isn’t expected to be cleared for contact before the end of June. It’s the No. 1 topic team executives have been questioning in pre-draft interviews.

“I’m doing so well; I’m ahead of schedule,” Butt said. “I know where the average man would be at this point in time and I know I’m ahead of that, so I’ve been really excited to show teams that.

While his knee makes him risky for NFL teams, his injury situation also has the potential to create significant value. Butt is thought to have first- or second-round talent, but could be available as late as the fifth. Any organization willing to bet on him in the long term would hit jackpot if he becomes the kind of asset many thought possible a few months ago.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper had him going late in the first round shortly before the injury, and NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote, “Butt is a natural pass-catcher that understands the nuances of route running and creating space. He catches everything and has the potential to be a dominant red-zone weapon.”

The Dolphins could use a tight end in the draft, though probably not in the early rounds, so Butt could be a good fit. Miami has veteran Julius Thomas, a Pro Bowl selection in 2013 and ’14, lined up as their No. 1 pass-catching tight end going into the season and signed esteemed blocker Anthony Fasano, so that position is fairly settled for this season.

Thomas has two years on his deal, and there’s no guarantee he’ll make it back to where he was before a variety of ailments derailed him in Jacksonville the past two seasons. The only other tight ends on the roster are Thomas Duarte and MarQueis Gray, who have a combined total of 26 career receptions.

Miami almost certainly will take defensive players with its first two picks, Nos. 32 and 54, but could start eying tight ends with its third rounder (97th overall) or in the fifth round, where it has three selections.

Butt emerged as a junior with 654 yards and three touchdowns on 51 catches, and followed that with 546 and four on 46 last season. While he isn’t one of the fastest tight ends in this year’s draft, his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame puts him at roughly the same size as Travis Kelce, for example.

“I think the world of him,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of Butt last season. “He’s the most gung-ho guy we have on our team when it comes to having joy for football… Guys that love competition and embrace the struggle, then you know you have a true football player. That’s the highest compliment I think you can receive.”

—30—



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