Though the Seattle Seahawks aren’t known for a high-volume passing game, quarterback Russell Wilson has tortured opponents with his ability to connect on deep passes throughout his seven-year NFL career.
According to Pro Football Focus, when throwing the football 20-plus yards downfield in 2018, Wilson led the league with 15 touchdown passes and finished second with a 128.1 quarterback rating. Amazingly, Wilson has been able to sustain such success without the luxury of a quality big-bodied receiver for most of his career.
After years of failing to draft and develop a bigger receiver, could Iowa State sensation Hakeem Butler add a new dimension to the Seahawks vertical aerial attack?
Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 225 pounds, Butler offers rare size at the receiver position and looks like a created player off of the Madden video game. During a conference game against Kansas, color commentator Brian Baldinger cited him as “LeBron James in a football uniform” after he reached over the top of a Jayhawks defender, plucked the football away, and then discarded the would-be tackler before finding his way into the end zone.
Capitalizing on his length, Butler dominated his opponents in the red zone during three seasons with the Cyclones. Showing off his skill sets learned on the hardwood as a former high school basketball star, he high points the football exceptionally well and he’s nearly impossible for corners and safeties to cover on fade routes in the end zone. All the quarterback has to do is throw up a jump ball and let him haul in the rebound.
On film, Butler doesn’t look like he’d break many tackles with his tall, lean frame, but aside from being physical while attacking the football as a receiver, he’s as dangerous after the catch as any player in this year’s draft class. Throughout his college career, he consistently broke through arm tackles, used his impressive wing span to stiff-arm defenders to another zip code, and also showed some elusiveness in open field.
Butler isn’t a receiver who takes it easy on run plays, as he enjoys the physicality of helping his football team as a blocker. Once again taking advantage of his length, he will extend his arms to create leverage against smaller defenders and has no problem mixing it up with corners, safeties, or linebackers.
Though he made improvements during his junior season and he’ll make plenty of incredible one-handed grabs, Butler has always been inconsistent with technical aspects of catching the football. When working his way back to the quarterback, he doesn’t always maximize his length by catching the ball away from his body, allowing defenders to sneak a hand in and make a play.
As a route runner, Butler’s lengthy strides actually can be a hindrance when he’s working in and out of breaks, particularly on short routes predicated on winning at the stem. He will need to refine his footwork to find effectiveness at the next level on short-to-intermediate routes.
While he could prove otherwise at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month, Butler seems to lack elite speed and it takes time for him to reach his top gear off the snap, though he can make up ground quickly with his long strides. He could struggle create separation on shorter routes, which again illustrates the importance of improving upon his footwork to compensate.
Where He Fits in Seattle
Butler enters this year’s draft as one of the more electric play makers in the class, as he scored 17 touchdowns and consistently reeled in highlight-caliber receptions during the last two seasons at Iowa State. Few prospects offer his combination of size, athleticism, and overall ball skills, which could lead to him sneaking into the first round if the right team falls in love with his toolbox.
He’s far from a perfect prospect, as his overall speed and agility will be put to the test in Indianapolis and he’ll need to fine-tune his route running skills to reach his ceiling. But his strengths as a dynamic vertical threat and matchup nightmare in the red zone along with willingness to block in the run game make him an ideal fit for Seattle’s offensive scheme.
Depending on what the Seahawks receive in return when they inevitably trade down from the No. 21 overall selection, Butler could be in consideration for their first pick in the late first or early second round.