Peterson: Butler leaving Iowa State early for the pros is another sign of the Cyclones' uptick

Randy Peterson
The Des Moines Register

AMES, Ia. — If Hakeem Butler declaring for the NFL draft surprises you, then that’s on you.

Returning for another college season would have been the shocker, considering he took a boatload of classes in order to graduate. He was making miraculous catch after miraculous catch. He made Brock Purdy tick.

He had nothing more to prove at the college level, so he did the right thing for him and his family.

He’s moving on.

Iowa State's Hakeem Butler (18) makes a one-handed catch over Washington State's Jalen Thompson (34) during the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, in San Antonio. Washington State would go on to win 28-26.

Wish him luck, Cyclones fans. Thank him for entertaining you the past two seasons during which you cheered his acrobatic receptions way more than you cringed at the easy passes he flubbed.

The pros will correct that. The pros will continue to put meat on his 6-foot-6 frame that includes a 7-foot wingspan. He’ll hook up with a personal trainer, work out somewhere in warmth. By the time the April draft comes around, he’ll be up for grabs.

Bad news for Iowa State football, you might say selfishly? Sure. He’s a wonderful receiver. It would have been cool to see how he and Purdy would have connected during an entire season that followed an entire offseason.

It would have been neat to see how Butler fit into an offense that likely will be tweaked to take advantage of Purdy’s many skills. 

But that’s not happening.

And yet: Good for Butler, and — hang with me on this one — good for Iowa State.

Let’s say you’re a talented and tall receiver still on the 2019 recruiting market. Let’s say you’re a freshman, and let’s say that you’re one of the hundreds of recruits who have received scholarship offers from Matt Campbell and his staff.

You see that Iowa State had a receiver good enough to leave for the NFL draft before his senior season. That impresses you, and you’re curious.

Further examination shows you that Purdy will be a sophomore in 2019, and might be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 Conference. He'll be the quarterback in 2020 and 2021, too. You notice that the Cyclones have their entire starting offensive line returning. You check the stats to see that they threw on almost 45 percent of the plays in 2018.

You look hard at the future of the program. You get feedback from people you trust. You dial up Butler’s most impressive plays, many of which are on YouTube. You envision that being you — and then you make your decision.

"If you haven't seen what he's been doing, then you've been under a rock," former Iowa State star receiver Allen Lazard told me during a November interview. “He been amazing. The stuff he can do — I don't know if anyone in college ball can do that stuff.”

Campbell inherited Butler when he became Iowa State’s coach in late November 2015. Paul Rhoads’ offer was Butler's only Power Five opportunity for a scholarship, and that came at the urging of Lou Ayeni, the Cyclones’ running backs coach, after being intrigued by Butler’s size and athleticism.

“I think Hakeem, bar none, is one of the most athletically talented guys I've ever had the opportunity to coach at the wide receiver position,” Campbell said.

His burst at the line of scrimmage was questionable, and maybe it still is debatable as far as it relates to the NFL. But that can also be corrected while training for the draft.

Iowa State's Hakeem Butler (18) catches a pass in the end zone to make the score 6-0 during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Ames. Kansas State takes a 21-14 lead into halftime.

"He’s faster than, I think, a lot of people give him credit for,” Cyclones receivers coach Bryan Gasser said. “He can cover a lot of ground in a hurry with his length. And because of his pass-catch radius, you don't have to put the ball right on his body for him to make a play.

“He's got the ability to extend — whether it’s up, out in front or behind. A lot of different things you can do."

Lazard, who finished this NFL season on the Green Bay Packers' roster, was Iowa State's primary receiving target in 2017. In 2018, it was Butler, who finished third nationally with an impressive average of 21.9 yards per catch.

“He didn't do that stuff when I was there,” Lazard said. “Either he didn't care to, or maybe I was holding him back. He looks comfortable in that role of being the man — the guy that's getting all the targets.”

And as former Kansas coach David Beaty said, after his team was futile in defending Butler: "If you're an NFL GM — have your people look into this guy. He's got the total package.”

And if you're an Iowa State fan, thank that guy for all those dramatic plays he made — and for helping turn the program into a winner.

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been with the Register for parts of five decades. Randy writes opinion and analysis of Iowa State football and basketball. You can reach Randy at or on Twitter at @RandyPete.