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What Happened With Hakeem?

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

This is one Cardinals’ fan’s guess/assessment.

When the Cardinals made Iowa St. WR Hakeem Butler the 1st pick ion Day 3 (Round 4) of the 2019 NFL Draft, at #103, there were plenty of reasons for Cardinals’ fans to believe that Butler was a home run pick.

If you recall listening to Kliff Kingsbury’s draft day phone conversation with Hakeem, they were talking like two old friends. Kliff was saying how glad he finally was to have Hakeem on his team, after trying to recruit him to Texas Tech and after watching him help lead the Cyclones to a big 40-31 win over the Red Raiders---check out the 2:20 mark of the game highlights---with Butler catching the go-ahead TD with 2:25 left in the game:

The fact that Kliff knew Hakeem so well, made the pick seem like a can’t miss no-brainer.

Plus, no matter what scouting report one read in 2018 about Hakeem Butler, the common phrase about him as a prospect was “somewhat raw, but has tremendous upside.” PFF had Butler ranked as the #30 best prospect in the draft.

However, if you watch this 3 minute PFF scouting report of Butler, Mike Renner does a superb job of identifying Butler’s limited route tree and inconsistent ability to gain separation in the short and intermediate areas of the field against press man coverage (even against smaller CBs) as top improvement areas---which co-host Steve Palazzio aptly contrasts to D.K. Metcalf’s ability to dominate versus press coverage due to his strength and speed. Plus, Renner and Palazzio alluded to Butler’s 12 drops in 2017 and 17 total drops per 100 catches his final two seasons at Iowa St.

There were a number of well respected draft gurus who were not as high on Butler as PFF was---Daniel Jeremiah (NFLN) did not have Butler in his top 50, Dane Brugler (The Athletic) had Butler as his #60 prospect and Lance Zierlein (Scouts. Inc.) had Butler ranked as the #13 WR in the 2019 class.

Chris Simms (NBC Pro Football Talk) offers his concerns about Butler in this “unplugged” video---in which he indicates that he felt that too often when watching Butler run his routes that he was “lumbering” and not getting in and out of his breaks like an NFL caliber WR should---

And that, my Birdgang friends, is very likely what the Cardinals’ WR coaches were most concerned about, especially in trying to run an offense that wants to play fast and free. Listen to what Simms had to say in the first 2 minutes of this video:

To be fair to Hakeem Butler, losing his entire rookie season to injury (fractured hand) was a major setback---and then losing out on not having any OTAs or mini-camps this off-season was also a major deterrent---that---and with the Cardinals adding DeAndre Hopkins via the trade and with Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson having learned a great deal how to improve their games after their rookie struggles and coming to camp ahead of the curve this time around, Butler really never had a decent chance to get the number of on the field reps that would allow him to move up the WR ladder in Arizona.

It certainly didn’t help Butler’s cause that draft guru Tony Pauline (Pro Football Network) reported during this year’s NFL Combine that the Cardinals were relieved that they were able to place Hakeem Butler on the IR as a rookie because he was so inconsistent in the 2019 camp to the point where they feared they may have to cut him---

Pauline’s report no doubt created somewhat of a stigma for Butler on a national level to the point where the Cardinals couldn’t even get the WR needy Jets to offer a 7th rounder for him---man, that was rough for both Butler and the Cardinals.

Not sure who Tony Pauline’s Cardinals’ contact is, but Pauline has been right on the money the last two Combines with his Cardinals-related reports---in 2019 he claimed that he heard that Kliff Kingsbury had already indicated that taking Kyler Murray with the #1 pick was a GO. And then with his report on Butler in 2020 that Butler’s chances of sticking with the Cardinals were very slim.

In either case, the Cardinals would be wise to find out how Pauline was getting these scoops and put an end to it---that is if they want to be able to trade draft picks like Josh Rosen and Hakeem Butler for optimum value.

Pauline is a New York metropolitan pundit and it’s possible that his understanding of the Butler situation had an influence on the Jets’ decision to decline a trade with the Cardinals.

However, Hakeem Butler met with the Jets yesterday and tried out for them, all with Kliff Kingsbury’s blessings. Kingsbury, who once met wit the Jets himself, said:

“For Hakeem, he’s a talented young man. We really like Hakeem. It’s just one of those deals. Sometimes it’s better for both sides to have a fresh start, and we felt like that was one of those instances. He has a tremendous upside and we still think he can be a really good player in this league. It just wasn’t working here and so we allowed him to go somewhere else. I hope it works out for him because we did enjoy him while he was here.”

Did you notice Kingsbury’s continued use of the phrase “tremendous upside”?

While Hakeem Butler was not able to stick with the Cardinals, at least the most hopeful phrase to describe his talent goes with him to New York or wherever he might land on a team’s practice squad with the chance to prove his doubters wrong.

The dude can get over the top of defenses and he can win his fair share of 50/50 balls. And—when he has the ball in his hands---he can rock and roll over safeties.

The key for him now is to find better ways to get off of press coverage (pun intended).