Earlier this week, the San Francisco 49ers hosted Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler. The high-flying former Cyclone is a fascinating prospect. I think it’s always good to get different points of views. So today, Rob and I are going to give you 4 total plays on Butler. One will be a reason why we are sold on him. The other will be an area where Butler can improve.
What I love
Butler displays a handful of encouraging traits in this 51-yard touchdown. First, he shows solid concentration, tracking the ball well in spite of a linebacker leaping up to deflect the pass. Butler then goes up to catch the ball out in front of the cornerback, who nearly broke up the pass. Immediately after the catch, Butler’s hit by the safety, who he promptly throws to the ground. He easily shrugs off another two defenders before finally finding pay dirt. What’s likely an incompletion or catch and tackle for most receivers is an impressive touchdown for Butler. His ability after the catch is invaluable. This is only one of what seemed like a dozen highlight plays that Butler created in 2018.
What I hate
Butler’s biggest flaw pertains to a receiver’s most important job - catching the football. While he shows a knack for making the difficult look easy, the inverse is also true. In this clip, Butler has a chance to cap off an incredible play for Iowa State. The quarterback avoids pressure, escapes to his left and throws a perfect pass to Butler streaking across the end zone. Butler leaps up for the pass, but allows the ball to deflect off his hands and fall incomplete behind the end zone. This wasn’t a difficult catch, and it’s one Butler has to make. A play that should’ve set the Iowa State sideline on fire now robs them of all momentum. Drops like this can turn a quarterback against a receiver, especially when six points are on the line. With massive 10-3/4” hands, Butler should have no problem catching the football, and must improve his concentration to minimize drops like this.
Why he’s worth it
Rob showed that Butler has the ability to go up and get it. I think one area that isn’t highlighted enough is Butler has breakaway speed. With the way he plays once the ball is in his hand, he has a lot of Mike Evans to him. Anybody reading this would draft 80% of Evans in the range that Butler is expected to go. When he gets a step on you, that’s all she wrote. You see those strides above. Good luck keeping up. If Butler is able to shake free when the defense brings a blitz, that’s all she wrote. Big plays matter.
What’s holding me back
Mike Evans is a lot more crisp in his routes. It Butler can develop to the point where he is only taking one cut out of his routes, he’s going to be a terror. For now, there are far too many instances where he is taking too long to get in and out of his breaks. They may not always be as extreme—like above where he doesn’t finish the route—but there are just too many extra steps in his routes at this point. In the NFL, he won’t have the amount of free releases off of the line of scrimmage he saw in college. So there will be a steeper learning curve. That worries me, and why I could see the team passing on him. Butler has flashed the ability when he has space to operate, but he needs to get more consistent and refined.