If the saying, “Adversity builds character” is true, then it should come as no surprise that Hakeem Butler is truly an exceptional young man. For fans of the HBO’s show, The Wire, you will have some context for what life may be like for a young African-American in Baltimore. Butler’s father left when he was very young, and Hakeem and his two siblings lived with their mother in a one-bedroom apartment. Just when their fortunes had turned, and they had enough financial security to move into a larger home, Hakeem’s mother, Sherryl Ford, was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a thirteen-year-old, Hakeem would grocery shop for his family, help his brother do his homework, and carry his mother up and down the steps when she was too sick and weak to do so herself. Sherryl Ford passed away in 2012.
Fortunately for Hakeem, he had family in Texas, and he was able to spend many summers with them away from the crime and violence of Baltimore. He was described as always being very athletic but not very coordinated as a young man. His family had a couple very gifted basketball players, and hoopin’ on the hardwood helped Hakeem grow in his coordination. Andrew and Aaron Harrison were his cousins that he lived with in Texas. The twins played their college ball at Kentucky, and both went on to professional playing careers afterwards. Once Butler moved to Texas on a permanent basis then he began to draw the interest of college coaches. Like his cousins, he was a very gifted basketball player, but he elected to play football in college instead. Due to the familial and environmental challenges that Butler faced, his grades weren’t very good in high school. As a result, his recruitment never picked up a ton of steam. Paul Rhodes offered Butler a scholarship to play football at Iowa State, and he accepted.
Butler ended up redshirting as a freshman. In 2016, he got some playing time but only finished the season with 9-134-2. How about this for your first career collegiate catch?
— Cyclones.tv (@CyclonesTV) September 8, 2016
As you can see in the clip, Butler’s length and athleticism pop on that catch. He’s listed at 6’6” and 219 pounds, so he is a constant mismatch for defenses. Butler had a much more productive 2017 campaign as he amassed 41-697-7. Those numbers were good for a 22.64% Dominator Rating. Iowa State had one of the worst offensive lines in football last season and cycled through quarterbacks like a Kardashian through the NBA. The departure of Allen Lazard coupled with increased stability around Butler should bode well for greater domination in 2018.
Iowa State Head Coach, Matt Campbell, had this to say about Butler at the beginning of the 2017 season, “(Hakeem) may be the most talented wide receiver in our entire wide receiver room.” Butler is a massive threat as a seam-ripper. Here are a few 2017 clips where he just terrorizes defenses vertically.
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) December 30, 2017
Here is that TD from Hakeem Butler! pic.twitter.com/V44s3mPfQq
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) September 3, 2017
Really like what I’ve seen from #IowaState WR Hakeem Butler so far from the TCU and Oklahoma games I’ve evaluate. Shows good size/speed combo & good body adjustment to the ball. Need to chart his routes but so far I’m concerned about his route breaks & separation at the LOS #devy pic.twitter.com/5u2KFcNH9V
— Jason DiRienzo (@allpurposescout) May 5, 2018
He has a knack for making some pretty impressive and acrobatic catches, however, what he is able to do after the catch may be even more impressive. You can clearly see that Butler’s traumatic life filled with unfortunate circumstances have created a deep reservoir of physical and mental strength in him that help him to persevere through adversity.
Hakeem Butler, that is a ridiculous catch and run.
Cyclones lead Baylor 17-10.
Video from FSN. pic.twitter.com/IBO7hVORAy
— Keith Murphy (@MurphyKeith) November 18, 2017
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) December 30, 2017
Butler appears to be best suited for a scheme and role that allows him to run vertical routes on the outside and probably even more so in the role of a Move TE or Big Slot working on the inside. He is far more than just a tall possession player though as evidenced by his career 16.6 yards-per-reception and tape full of explosive plays. His route running and focus will need to continue to improve in order for him to fulfill his massive potential. If I am looking at the best possible outcome for Butler, he could grow into a physically imposing, dominant WR like Tampa Bay Buc, Mike Evans. I know he can already be a similar type of mismatch against smaller and weaker defenders, but he will need to grow in both of the aforementioned areas in order to ascend into the elite category. I believe that once Butler gets to do his athletic testing at the Combine then his stock could skyrocket even further, a la Mike Evans. I had an astute evaluator that is very plugged in with Iowa State football suggest that he could have a similar professional role and trajectory to Carolina Panther, Devin Funchess. I believe he is far more physically-gifted than Funchess, but I also want to include some realistic possible ranges of outcomes for him. He’s a 22-year-old receiver that hasn’t broken out yet, and that will undoubtedly deter him from being selected by some Devy players. I’m not one of them. When I see what he has been able to overcome off the field with what he has put on tape on the field, he’s the type of player that I want to take a shot on in the middle or end of drafts.
Hakeem Butler is the type of person and player that is easy to pull for. He was dealt an incredibly difficult hand, and while he hasn’t played it to perfection, he has done a very admirable job to end up where he has today. I was moved by his perspective on his life up to this point that he made to the Des Moines Register, “It was a tough life, but it definitely taught me so much that I don’t know if I would be standing here today if those things wouldn’t have happened… I wouldn’t have been at Iowa State if I wouldn’t have lost my mom. If she wouldn’t have missed those meals, I wouldn’t have the chip on my shoulder — the way I play so aggressive, so angry. I don’t know if I would be like that if I wouldn’t have went through that stuff. So, I’m thankful for everything I’ve been through.”