Editor's note: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein will "dare to compare" prospects to NFL players throughout the college football season. This week, he provides a scouting report and comp for Michigan's Jake Butt, who's a finalist for the Mackey Award as one of the nation's top tight ends. He'll lead the Wolverines into battle against Ohio State on Saturday in the most highly anticipated game of the CFB season.
Michigan's Jake Butt, a senior, won't dazzle anyone with his long speed or shiftiness in the open field, but he finds ways to get open and you won't find a tougher tight end in the college game when it comes to making the contested catch. Let's take a look at Butt's strengths and weaknesses and NFL comp.
Butt (6-foot-6, 250 pounds, per school measurements) has NFL size and it appears as though his frame could handle 5-10 more pounds of muscle if he wanted to bulk up a little more. He is a big, reliable target who is easy for Michigan quarterbacks to find. Butt's greatest strength is probably his strong, magnet-like hands, which can clamp down on throws and secure the catch even in the most contested scenarios. In fact, he's fearless in the middle of the field and seems to thrive when working in traffic over the middle and near the red zone.
As a receiver, he's slick with his hands, using a slap move to free himself off the line of scrimmage and sly push-offs to create separation for himself at the top of his routes. Butt sinks into space and chews up zone coverage. He could be a quality safety blanket for a young quarterback at the next level. While Butt is effective on contested, short throws, he's also shown he can be effective adjusting his routes and running to the free areas in his intermediate work. He's competitive after the catch and has the ability to add to his yardage through force.
Butt is a decent athlete, but his athleticism doesn't match the level of guys like Alabama's O.J. Howard and Ole Miss' Evan Engram. He can be a little cumbersome getting off the line of scrimmage and into his routes. Butt tends to be a one-speed runner. He doesn't have many gears, which makes him somewhat predictable in and out of his routes. While the aforementioned tight ends are dangerous vertically, Butt's range is more limited.
Butt will need to become more polished with his routes to help him create better separation. He's a little upright into his breaks and doesn't show much separation quickness after making his cuts. NFL linebackers should be able to stick with him in coverage. Butt is grabby as a blocker and takes questionable angles up to the second level. He also allows physical outside linebackers to set strong edges against him. He'll need more commitment and work as a run blocker at the NFL level.
My comparison for Butt is Zach Miller. I'm not talking about the Zach Miller who plays for the Chicago Bears and just suffered a season-ending foot injury. I'm talking about the Zach Miller who was a second-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2007. He came out of Arizona State as a pass-catching tight end with the size to be a combination tight end (effective pass-catcher and blocker) in the NFL. Like Miller, Butt has the size and pass-catching ability to become a combination tight end, but he'll have to sharpen his routes and become more aggressive as a blocker.
When Miller came into the league, he was overshadowed by guys like Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates, but he still managed to put together a strong body of work in Oakland before moving on to Seattle for the second half of his career. Like Miller, Butt has a chance to post solid catch numbers and decent touchdown totals, but he might lack the overall athletic traits that are typically found in high-end pass-catching tight ends. Miller was a rock-solid TE for eight NFL seasons and Butt should have a similar trajectory.