To say that the difference in Malcolm Butler's role from last season to this one is "night and day" would be an understatement.
Now the Patriots clear-cut No. 1 corner, Butler has played in all but five defensive snaps for the team thus far this season, and he has been on the field for every possible play for each of the last four games. In all, he's played in 351 defensive plays, often lined up across from an opposing team's best receiver.
Contrast that with where Butler was at this time last year, and the numbers are staggering. Through five Patriots games in 2014, Butler was active for three, and he had played in a total of 66 snaps.
During a conference call on Monday afternoon, it was mentioned to Patriots coach Bill Belichick that it seemed as though Butler had taken on a larger role this season. Before a question was asked, Belichick interjected, "There's no question about that."
Because the Patriots are now without some of their top corners from last year's Super Bowl-winning roster -- in particular Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner -- Butler has been thrust into a central role. An exceptional athlete with above-average makeup speed and strong ball skills, Butler has the traits to be a No. 1 cornerback.
His season has been far from flawless, as he's allowed four touchdowns and over 16 yards per reception, according to Pro Football Focus. But he's also tallied six pass deflections and an interception, and it's a wonder where the Patriots secondary would be had it not found the Division 2 product out of West Alabama last year.
"His role is that he's out on the field for almost every defensive play," Belichick said. "That's a big change from where it was last year. Malcolm's a good football player, and he's played very well for us both last year and this year. But given where we are in the secondary and the level of [his] improvement, I think no matter who we had on our team that he would be playing a lot of football for us.
"That's really a credit to him and how much he's improved from last year to this year. He's a good football player. He's playing well. He does a lot of good things for us, and there's still a lot of room for him to improve. I don't think he's hit the peak, but he's getting better and I thought he played well last night."