Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Super starters show Signing Day isn't always a stairway to heaven


HOUSTON -- Because nothing goes together like the Super Bowl and Signing Day, am I right?

It was fascinating listening to Bill Belichick expound -- and when he's asked a question he likes, mostly about the history of football and scouting (his dad was an assistant coach at Navy and would let his son tag along when he scouted other teams), he actually does expound -- about cornerback Malcolm Butler, who saved the last New England Super Bowl and will start against the Falcons on Sunday.

Butler is from Vicksburg, Miss. He went to Hinds Community and was kicked off the team. He took classes at Alcorn State but landed back at Hinds. After JUCO, he moved to Division II West Alabama. A highlight of his collegiate career was a three-interception game against West Georgia. He went undrafted by NFL teams.

Belichick was asked Tuesday how he found Butler. Off he went.

“Just digging through some guys at the end of the (2014) draft. When the draft was over, there were a number of players that were not signed that we still were interested in. We invited Malcolm up for rookie mini-camp. We had probably 10 to 15 players like that, players that finished their college careers but were not signed by a team. They were essentially there for a tryout, an extended tryout during that period. They were there along with our draft choices and players that we had signed during that draft. We also had a couple of veteran-type players that weren’t with a team that fell under a certain category."

Then: "I’d say once we saw Malcolm on the field after the first workout, it was pretty obvious that we felt like this was the type of kid that we want to work with. He was raw, technique-wise and all of that. He had a good training camp and got a little bit of playing time during the year. We saw him firsthand when we actually saw him in our building in that rookie mini-camp three years ago.”

At the end of the 2014 season, Butler -- then the Patriots' nickel back -- cut in front of Ricardo Lockette to stave off Seattle's final thrust and make Belichick a four-time Super Bowl winner as head coach. He's now an every-down NFL cornerback.

And where, you're asking, was Malcolm Butler ranked on Signing Day 2009? According to Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, nowhere.

Every year we get one of those where-were-the-Super-Bowl-players-coming-out-of-high-school breakdowns, and Solomon's is revealing . Between the Falcons and Patriots' starting lineups, only three players were 5-star recruits -- Julio Jones, duh, and Pats tight end Marcellus Bennett (Texas A&M) and defensive tackle Malcolm Brown (Texas).

Matt Ryan was a 3-star prospect, Alex Mack a 2-star. Tom Brady, Solomon notes, predated star ratings and the major recruiting services but was the No. 6 pro-style quarterback according to Tom Lemming.

The moral of our story is ... well, you know it as well as I do. Signing Day is a very important day for college football programs, but then you fast-forward to prospects as pros and, come the Super Bowl, you'll see a 5-star receiver from mighty Alabama aligned against a no-star defender who not long ago was a batter cook at Popeyes . Funny old world, isn't it?

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.