Per sources close to the program, Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler will declare his entry into the 2019 NFL Draft soon after tonight's Alamo Bowl against the Washington State Cougars.
A redshirt junior, Butler enjoyed his most productive season to date, posting career highs in catches (51), yards (1,126), and touchdowns (9) even before tonight's upcoming bowl. A premiere deep threat, Butler's 22.1 yards/catch is second in the country and tops in the Big 12, and his career 19.4 yards/catch is third all-time in the conference as well. Butler also graduated earlier this month, in preparation for declaring after his breakout season.
In 2018, Butler has already broken Lane Danielsen's record for single-season receiving yards (set in 2002) and is two touchdowns off of Allen Lazard's single-season record for receiving touchdowns (10). Update: following the Alamo Bowl, Butler did not break the touchdown record, but his official yardage record now stands at 1,318 yards. Lazard set that mark last year before going undrafted to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2018 NFL Draft; he's now on the 53-man roster for the Green Bay Packers.
Viewed generally as a Day 2 prospect, Butler wins downfield with size, catch radius, and strong hands away from his frame. Standing at 6-foot-6 with vines for arms, Butler regularly embarrassed Big 12 defensive backs this season deep. His long speed is a question mark for some scouts -- will he be able to separate downfield in the NFL? -- but he was listed on Bruce Feldman's Freaks list this season for his 11'1 broad jump and 37" vertical jump. Butler's explosiveness does translate into his route stems, and his strength (340 lb bench) shows up with his surprising YAC ability for a bigger-bodied receiver.
Within the class, Butler fits somewhere in a thick, talented group of big receivers at the top of the Draft. Ole Miss' D.K. Metcalf, Arizona State's N'Keal Harry, Stanford's JJ Arcega-Whiteside, NC State's Kelvin Harmon, and Texas' Collin Johnson are all potential Top-75 picks at WR who tip the scales over 215 pounds and above 6-foot-3. Butler has the advantage of 2017 tape from the slot and 2018 tape aligned outside; looser hips than most bigger receivers; and a great production profile. In my updated rankings, I would have him below Metcalf, and neck-and-neck with Harmon and Arcega-Whiteside.
Butler is a rising name to watch in the WR class if he has as strong of a Combine as his "Freaks" numbers predict. Against Washington State, Butler will chase after that touchdown record -- and it will be interesting to see where his targets come. The vast majority of Butler's touchdowns have come on long catch-and-run plays, and teams want to see him develop a strong red-zone presence given his size and strength. If teams feel good about his jump ball ability in the end zone, Butler could work his way into early Round 2 consideration.