Our NFL rookie profile series continues with this analysis of 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Hakeem Butler, WR of Iowa State. You can also check out all of our NFL Draft Prospect articles here. We will continue to provide you with these in-depth rookie profiles and a ton of other fantasy football rookie analysis right up through the NFL Draft. Stay tuned, and stay ahead of your league!
As one of the most tantalizing prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft, Hakeem Butler has rightfully ascended to the top half of the first round of rookie drafts. His size/speed combination has dynasty players excited for his potential, and it is notable that Butler has not yet hit his ceiling as a prospect.
Statistics from sports-reference.com.
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Butler had a turbulent high school career due to the death of his mother and his relocation to Texas, which caused him to be under-recruited before landing at Iowa State. He redshirted in 2015, but didn’t contribute much on the field in his first game action in 2016, catching just nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
Butler began to stand out in the 2017 season, catching 41 passes for 697 yards and seven touchdowns. He was still playing second fiddle to a future NFL receiver in Allen Lazard, but Butler displayed his downfield ability (17.0 yards per reception) and red zone prowess and gave the team something to build on for his final season.
2018 is when Butler exploded onto the scene. He wasn’t a truly high-volume receiver, but he caught 60 passes for a whopping 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns. The 1,318 receiving yards set a single-season Iowa State record. He had six 100-yard receiving games and his 22.0 yards per reception ranked among the best in the country and highlighted how unique a talent he is, especially given his frame.
A look at Butler’s Expand The Boxscore profile shows that a whopping 42% of his receptions went for 20 or more yards, and he had ten plays of 40 or more yards. Surprisingly, though, only two of his nine touchdowns in 2018 came in the red zone.
Butler’s highlights are truly as impressive as anyone’s. His contested circus catches, violent runs after the catch, and overall physicality are what make his upside so exciting, but it’s important to watch game tape to truly come to an understanding of his ability.
Butler’s ball skills are phenomenal. Because of his catch radius, which I’ll expand on a bit later, there are very few passes in his area that he isn’t able to get to. He excels at shielding the defender from reaching incoming passes, boxing them out with his big body and using his long arms to pluck the ball out of the air. Butler has very good body control, shines when tracking the ball downfield, and understands how to stack defenders vertically.
Because of how long his legs are, he eats up ground when he’s running. He’s a long strider that accelerates faster than it seems, which plays into how he has been able to maintain such a high yards per reception throughout his career. Butler often stiff-arms smaller defensive backs after the catch, adding five to ten yards after the catch at a time. He is an engaging blocker in the run game, which should appeal to coaches looking to keep him on the field at all times.
Butler has so much to like about his game, but some are lower on his projection.
He doesn’t run the crispest routes, occasionally rounding them off or struggling to get in and out of his breaks, but route running is something that improves with repetition and practice. He has shown the ability to incorporate subtle head fakes to sell defenders on his routes, but still needs to work on his footwork. However, Butler is a better route runner now than he was in 2016 and 2017, and he will continue to improve with more reps.
I am of the mindset that drops don’t matter as long as the player is able to make up for them in other areas. Butler’s big plays outweigh his drop issues, but it’s important to note that he has struggled to hold onto the ball.
Dropped passes require context. Three common reasons:
1. Lack of technique.
2. Tracking issues.
3. Focus diverted.
Hakeem Butler’s issues are mostly #3 — the most benign of the three major reasons.
His catches tell you a lot about the technique/tracking. pic.twitter.com/zZg5DBCm7h
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) March 23, 2019
His problems are mental, as he consistently displays strong hands at the catch point in contested situations, but he suffers concentration drops somewhat frequently.
According to Butler himself, though, he’s worked on his drop issues this off-season while working out with Anquan Boldin and Calvin Johnson: “I had some drops during the season, of course. Every receiver does. It’s a concentration thing. I know what I have to fix, and I fixed it.”
Butler’s MockDraftable spider graph is truly incredible. Butler is in the 95th percentile or above in height, weight, wingspan, arm length, and hand size. His physical stature is evident on the field, and he clearly fits the prototypical alpha receiver build.
He also tested extremely well. This came as a surprise to me, although perhaps his yards per reception should have given more of an indication of his impressive athleticism. Butler’s 128” broad jump landed in the 88th percentile, while his 4.48 40-yard-dash opened some eyes as well. His 18 reps on the bench are impressive, particularly for someone with such long (99th percentile) arms.
It is worth noting that while DK Metcalf is getting roasted for his agility numbers, Butler opted not to test in this area. It is likely that Butler would have sub-standard numbers in this area as well, as he doesn’t seem particularly fluid when changing direction.
Iowa State ran 124 plays in the red zone in the 2018 season, but hardly utilized Butler in this area for some reason. He saw just seven targets, catching three. What excites me about Butler’s future potential is the fact that he pairs a 36-inch vertical with a 6’5” frame and an 84-inch wingspan, giving him a nearly unparalleled catch radius. He has the ability to turn into a red zone monster if: 1) he can become more consistent with his technique and 2) he is paired with a quarterback and/or play-caller willing to unlock his upside.
Butler has risen throughout the pre-draft process and is now considered a consensus top-five rookie pick. He was the third player off the board across the ten DLF March Rookie ADP mocks, with no drafter selecting him lower than seventh. DLF’s rookie rankings have Butler listed as the top player overall, with no rankers pitting him lower than third.
Startup ADP places Butler as the 49th player (and third rookie) overall, behind N’Keal Harry and Metcalf. This means, on average, Butler is the first player off the board in the fifth round of startup mocks. I’d be willing to wager that his price will increase before the season begins.
Butler could end up as a first-round NFL draft pick later this month, but it is likely that Metcalf will be the first receiver selected. Landing spots will ultimately be the true tiebreaker, but I would doubt that Butler finishes this process as the 1.01 even though he is my top receiver at this point.
There are plenty of analysts who do not like Butler as much I do, and they point primarily to the fact that his breakout didn’t come until his final (redshirt junior) season. This is valid criticism, and although Allen Lazard hasn’t yet made an impact on Sundays, he is still an NFL-caliber receiver that was a hero to Cyclones fans and a legend on that campus. However, it wasn’t like Butler didn’t produce in 2017. He performed well with the targets he received, and then broke out and exploded in 2018 when peppered with looks. His 42% market share and 43.5% dominator rating in 2018 prove that he is capable of being a team’s number one weapon.
Butler was under-recruited due to the tragedy he endured, which caused him to move from Maryland to Texas and have to sit out half a season. This led colleges to not have a significant amount of tape on him to evaluate. He also had some academic struggles, which aren’t entirely surprising given all of the turmoil he suffered through at the same time. Butler admitted to not taking his freshman season as seriously as he needed to, but has been the consummate teammate and player since then.
Hakeem Butler has All-Pro upside, and perhaps doesn’t have the bust potential of a player like DK Metcalf, who I also happen to like quite a bit. The improvement Butler has shown year over year has been remarkable, and points to the potential that he has yet to fully realize.
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