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Undrafted rookie Emmanuel Butler turning heads early at New Orleans Saints training camp

"He's certainly done some things to open your eyes here"

Emmanuel Butler would be hard enough to miss as it is, given that he's a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder running around at receiver.

But add in that he's snagging absolutely everything in his catch radius – and his zone is as expansive as his size suggests – and that makes for a tantalizing undrafted rookie who has turned heads early at New Orleans Saints training camp.

"He has kind of been intriguing," Coach Sean Payton said Sunday, July 28. "He has made a play, a couple plays, each day. He's big. I'm excited."

Butler appeared even more imposing during the Saints' first padded practice, on Sunday at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. So far, the rookie has been ready to apply much of the lessons he has been taught.

"It's been a great experience," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun out here. I'm trying to come out here every day, learn as much as I can, and just try to help make plays for my team."

It has been enough to shift the hype machine into overdrive, and to support Butler's college numbers at Northern Arizona (187 catches for 3,217 yards and 33 touchdowns in 45 games). Behind defenders, in front of defenders, between defenders – the former high school tight end is big and physical enough to be open even when he literally might not be "open."

But, that said, it isn't as if he has been perfect.

"I feel like the coaches have more so been on me just trying to make sure that I'm doing everything that I'm supposed to be doing," Butler said. "When I'm making a play, they're of course congratulating me on making a good play but they're also letting me know what I could be doing better to be more successful, to get to where I want to be and to get to where this team needs me to be."

Butler said he has been working on getting in and out of his breaks, making sure he's being quarterback-friendly and coming back downhill and out of his routes. He's also working on making sure that the attention doesn't become detrimental.

"It's pretty cool to come out after practice and see your phone blowing up a little bit," he said. "It's been pretty fun after the fact. But when I'm on the field I try not to focus on that. I try to just focus on making plays and making sure I'm 100 percent ready to go."

That said, it's understandable that this all could be a tad heady for an undrafted rookie. Career and single-season records at Northern Arizona, and two All-Big Sky first-team honors might not have been comparable preparation for the scrutiny he has faced in the first three practices of his initial NFL training camp, or the skyrocketing expectations that have begun.

None of the accolades were enough to get him drafted. But not being drafted doesn't mean he lacks the goods, and the Saints annually have shown the willingness to create space for talented undrafted rookies.

"I mean he was a guy that we were actively recruiting (immediately after the draft), but I'd have to go back to see if he was in a draft eligible position," Payton said. "He's certainly done some things to open your eyes here."

If Butler has his way, that'll continue. He has the perfect model for his pursuit: Marques Colston, the Saints' all-time leader in receptions (711), receiving yards (9,759) and touchdowns (72).

Colston was a seventh-round pick, from Hofstra, before etching his name into the Saints' record book.

"When I was actually at the NFLPA Bowl (in Pasadena, Cal., in January), I talked with a Saints scout there and that's who he had compared me to after watching some of the practices that we had," Butler said. "After going and watching a lot of his film, realizing that he was a small-school player that came in and had to work his way up, had a path kind of similar to mine, it's someone that I kind of look to and really try to, I guess, model myself after."

He could do worse than mimic a player who made himself impossible to miss.