In order to reach the NFL, Brice Butler took a long, winding road.
He went from being a prep All-American in Georgia – where he was courted by coaches in the Southeastern Conference – to USC in Los Angeles and then San Diego State before finally being selected by the Raiders in the seventh round of the April NFL draft.
Butler isn’t used to taking a direct route. He’s accustomed to twists and turns and changes of fortune. So there’s no way the rookie wide receiver thinks he’s won a job on the Raiders’ opening-day roster with one breakout game.
Two catches for 70 yards and a touchdown on one late drive in Friday night’s 19-17 exhibition victory over the Dallas Cowboys was OK, he says, but he needs to continue to impress in training camp at Napa and in exhibition games. His next opportunity comes Friday night when Oakland travels to New Orleans to play the Saints.
“I honestly don’t think I played that good,” Butler told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group, when asked about his first pro game. “Until those couple of plays on that one drive, I didn’t feel good about my play at all. I definitely have to work on it. Watching tape, there was a lot of stuff I can work on.”
Yet Butler caught the attention of many with his opening-night show. First, he caught a 40-yard pass from rookie quarterback Matt McGloin. Then he made a diving grab in traffic of a 30-yard pass for a touchdown.
His combination of size (6-foot-3), speed and good hands makes him a promising candidate to crack the Raiders’ receiving corps – a group with plenty of hungry young players and few veterans.
“Make no mistake about it, he’s been a nice surprise,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told reporters Monday. “When you get a seventh-round draft pick like that who’s really developed, that’s a good thing to have. But at the same time, I don’t want him reading too much of his press clippings and start feeling too good about himself. He’s still a rookie. He still has a long way to go, but he’s off to a nice start.”
Butler – the son of former longtime Atlanta Falcons cornerback Bobby Butler – is keeping that in mind.
“It’s just one game,” he told the Associated Press. “I just have to keep working. If I play terrible nobody will remember last week.”
Butler’s route to the NFL started in college at USC, where he caught 20 passes as a freshman. But over the next two years, the emergence of other wideouts on the Trojans pushed Butler back on the depth chart. Eventually, he transferred to San Diego State for his senior year. But, on a team without a strong quarterback, he caught just 24 balls. By the time the draft came, Butler was no longer an acclaimed prep prospect or college star, but a well-traveled wideout with potential – like so many others.
To fellow wide receiver Rod Streater, who made the team last season as an undrafted rookie, Butler has the ability to make this team, too. His future is in his own hands, though.
“I told him, ‘You just got to work and when you’re on the field, college is done now,’ ” Streater said. “ ‘This is the NFL. You get a new chance.’ ”