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NFL Draft Profile: Michigan TE Jake Butt is a complete package, but rookie year is in doubt

A patient NFL team could get a bargain on an all-around tight end in this year’s draft if they’re willing to wait for him to finish rehabbing a torn knee ligament.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Coming into the 2016 college football season, Michigan’s Jake Butt was one of the top tight ends in the country. A candidate to declare for the NFL Draft after his junior year, he elected to come back to Ann Arbor for his senior season. It appeared to be a good call — Butt was one of the best players at his position last season — until the Wolverines’ bowl game.

In that contest, a crazy 33-32 loss to Florida State, Butt suffered a knee injury that was later revealed to be a torn ACL. Now he faces questions about his rookie year in the NFL as he attempts to recover and rehab his knee in time for training camp.

Butt is an optimist, however. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he spoke about his progress after two months of rehab: “I’m ahead of schedule. I know where the average man would be at this point in time and I know I’m ahead of that.” As for the timeline for return, Butt has specific goals in mind:

I had surgery January 10, you begin running 12 weeks after that, so three months, four and a half months after that you begin cutting, and then five and a half months you can begin doing football drills.

That eagerness to return and work through the rehab has been a constant throughout this process. Butt spoke to teams and media alike at his Pro Day on Friday as well, and he remains ambitious on his date for his projected return as well:

Mid-July would be six and a half months from when he suffered the injury, which would be a faster return than even Adrian Peterson’s comeback after he tore his ACL on Christmas Eve 2011. In 2012, he returned to training camp in the middle of August, just shy of eight months after his tear.

When Butt does return to full strength, he should do so as one of the more complete packages at tight end in this year’s draft class. He was used heavily as a blocker in Michigan’s pro-style offense, but was also a critical receiver, both as a safety valve and as a down-field target. Butt’s last two years, which coincided with the arrival of head coach Jim Harbaugh, saw him put up impressive numbers, as he caught a combined 97 passes for exactly 1,200 yards - an average of 12.4 yards per reception.

As a blocker, he got to face NFL-caliber linemen both in practice and on game days. Butt mentioned two potential top-100 picks in Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley as some of his toughest competition in that phase of the game: “It’s not going to get much harder than those guys, with their long arms (and) their reach ... that’s definitely helped me.”

Despite being considered a potential first-day pick prior to his injury, Butt has no regrets about returning for his senior season or playing in the bowl game, however. While a few top players chose to sit out their bowls, like Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, doing the same “never crossed my mind,” he said at the Combine. “Obviously it’s a tough injury, but it’s nothing I can’t overcome ... I don’t second-guess that at all.”

Now, time will tell whether he is able to be on his new NFL team’s roster for week one and just how early a team will draft him with those concerns. Whichever team does select him will get a player who is focused on achieving the ultimate team goal, however. His focus: “Help an organization reach a Super Bowl and win one.”

One way or another, he’ll probably get an opportunity to contribute at some point in 2017.