What are they feeding those boys at Iowa State? Man.
Last season, Allen Lazard was the Draft-eligible offensive weapon. The big-bodied WR came down with many a circus catch across the 2017 CFB season, including a game-winner against then No. 3 ranked Oklahoma that drew NFL eyes.
Lazard came into the Combine at 6-foot-5 and 227 points -- as big-bodied of a receiver as you'd find. The joke was that a move to tight end might be in his future. (He was brought to Jacksonville as a UDFA receiver and is now on the practice squad.)
In Lazard's wake at Iowa State was another supersized pass-catcher, just waiting to grab his own spotlight -- that's Hakeem Butler, and the breakout party was this past Saturday: against that same Oklahoma team that Lazard put to bed, Butler went for 174 yards on 5 receptions with 2 tuddies to boot.
At a listed 6-foot-6, 219 pounds, Butler's frame might be a little long and lean, but man it's impressive how well he maintains himself after the catch. You typically expect your thicker receivers to take on those closing safeties with such strength, throw off would-be tacklers with such violence -- Butler's power, at his density, shines.
Now, we always have to measure our evaluation against competition -- and a quick search of Jon Ledyard's Twitter account including the words "Oklahoma" "tackling" and "garbage" will let you know very quickly how the Sooners' defense struggles to finish the play. I went back to the end of Butler's 2017 season, to see if his knack for YAC remained against other defenses.
Butler had a big game against Memphis in Iowa State's bowl game -- shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as next season's expected stars often see larger workloads in bowls.
The YAC ability remains.
This wide angle provides a really nice look for just how much longer -- just how much bigger -- Butler is than his competition. That size and catch radius typically are understood as advantages in contested catch situations -- they certainly were for Lazard -- but they can be disadvantageous after the catch, because you're a bigger target; you lose leverage against smaller defensive backs; you can't change direction as quickly, because your strides are so long.
The first thing you notice, when watching Butler eat up ground here, is how smoothly he moves at his size. He does well to generate explosion in tight spaces to rip through contact, and he's dropping his pads into contact to act as the aggressor. He's looking to go gain some dirty yardage, and at 6-foot-6, that's a very welcome trait.
That boy strong.
I love seeing Butler high point this ball: work back to the catch point, snag it away from his frame, protect it from the defensive back. But it is atypical for a receiver of his length to maintain his balance through this tackle attempt and begin dragging a corner down the field.
Now, the presence of Lazard on the roster last season matters a good deal, in that Lazard was often the target on boundary throws, third downs, goal line opportunities -- whenever you need your wide receiver to get up and make a big play. When we scout, we need to see if traits match skills. Butler has the traits to be a great boundary receiver, given his catch radius and physicality, but we need to ensure he has the concentration and body control to be successful under those tight circumstances.
And we can start checking off that box as well.
Watching Butler's deployment at Iowa State will be critical to determining his NFL role. With Lazard on the field, Butler played a lot of slot reps, running seam routes and option routes like a flex tight end. Now with Lazard in the NFL, Butler saw more outside looks and traditional downfield WR routes.
Is Butler enough of an athlete to be an outside WR in the NFL? I think so, but that's a question for a later date. For now, if he continues to develop his downfield prowess in contested situations, he rounds out his profile as a player who can be effective to all three levels of the field -- with explosive play potential on every target as well. Butler is firmly on the map as a potentially high pick at WR for the 2019 NFL Draft.