Yahoo Sports' top 2019 NFL draft prospects: Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler

Yahoo Sports
(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

6-foot-5, 227 pounds

The lowdown: With rare length – to go along with his height, Butler has 35-inch arms and nearly 11-inch hands – and great vertical production, he’s a unique specimen in this draft class. Butler averaged 22 yards per catch and logged 10 40-yard grabs this season as an acrobatic jump-ball specialist for the Cyclones. His production has improved with each season, as this raw but fascinating prospect has earned some well-regarded praise in NFL circles.

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But there remains a mystery whether Butler can win in the pros the way he did in college. Lacking polish in his route running and possessing inconsistent hands (a brilliant catch followed by a drop, e.g.), there are legitimate questions about whether his game is ready-made, and Butler can’t count on winning jump balls in the NFL consistently against more seasoned, athletic and long defensive backs. That makes him one of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s class, but his gifts are undeniable.

Butler shifts up to top speed impressively fast, has outstanding leaping ability and has made tangible strides each season after being an overlooked recruit coming out of Texas. He plays with an edge, both in securing the catch and running with the ball in his hands, and Butler emerged as a strong blocker who can extend and lock his arms on smaller defenders effectively. Working with former Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, Butler hopes to improve his technique off the line and at the top of his routes.

We can envision the long-striding Butler emerging as a quality “X” receiver in time, winning on 50-50 balls (red zone) and back-shoulder fades (sideline) in the NFL. He’s got the wide and flexible frame and a massive catch radius to make a less-than-pinpoint quarterback effective, and his body control in tight spaces is underrated. Even though he needs route refinement, Butler could emerge as a rare weapon in time.

Fun fact: Butler’s mother died of breast cancer when he was 16. He moved to Texas to live with his twin cousins, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who helped Kentucky basketball reach back-to-back Final Fours. Butler struggled to keep his grades in order in high school, almost costing himself a shot to qualify at Iowa State, but he finished high school strong academically. The cousins all remain very close to this day, and all three could be playing sports professionally this year. Andrew plays basketball in Russia, Aaron in Turkey, and Butler is expected to be drafted high into the NFL.

Draft range: Top 50 pick, and it wouldn’t stun us if he sneaks into the late first round.

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