Film Room: Hakeem Butler Brings Size And A Big Play Threat To Pittsburgh’s WR Room

It was announced Tuesday evening that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed XFL star and former NFL fourth-round draft pick WR Hakeem Butler. The Iowa State product was heavily touted coming out of college due to his immense size and length, boasting a 6055, 220-lb frame along with 35 1/4” arms and 10 3/4” hands. Butler also proved to be a good athlete coming out of college, running a 4.48 40 while jumping 36” in the vert and 10’8” in the broad. He broke out in his final year at Iowa State, posting 1,318 yards on 60 receptions (22.0 YPR) and nine TDs.

However, Butler’s lack of fluidity as a route runner as well as drop concerns caused him to fall to the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft where he was selected by the Arizona Cardinals. After breaking his hand, causing him to miss his entire rookie campaign, Butler was released just a year later and saw some action with the Philadelphia Eagles but failed to catch a pass. Since then, Butler tried to latch on in the CFL with a couple of teams but failed to stick, and most recently got a shot in the XFL with the St. Louis Battlehawks. Butler turned the XFL opportunity into a stellar audition for the NFL, catching 51 passes for 599 yards and eight TDs over 10 games.

It was reported that Butler was invited to Pittsburgh’s rookie minicamp but he didn’t attend. Still, GM Omar Khan mentioned Butler by name when talking about the WR position, suggesting the Steelers intended to sign him. Now a member of the Steelers, let’s dive into the tape to see what Butler brings to the table as he attempts to stick on the roster.

The Film

Hakeem Butler’s size and length make him an instant mismatch nightmare for most smaller defensive backs. He was a contested-catch specialist at Iowa State and that same skill set translated to the XFL this season. Watch this catch Butler makes in the end zone with multiple defenders flying in to break up the pass. Butler elevates and snags the pass with his big hands with outstretched arms, bringing it into his body as the defender contacts him to secure the catch for the TD.

Butler’s size makes him an ideal red zone threat, having the frame to go over top opposing CBs as well as the leaping ability to high point the ball in the air and take it off the rim. Watch these two TDs Butler scores in the red zone, both coming on corner route concepts from the slot. You see Butler get separation off the LOS in both clips, leaping up and using his body to make the circus catch for the score in the first clip while leveraging his route with the DB’s back turned in the second clip to get enough separation to make the catch for the score.

As you can see above, Butler lined up a fair amount in the slot for the Battlehawks this season and had exposure to the slot during his time in college as well. His size and ability to stretch the field vertically make him a dangerous weapon in the slot for smaller defensive backs that have to match up with his size and length. Watch this clip of Butler stretching the seam against Las Vegas. Getting a step on the defender tasked with covering him, he catches the pass over the shoulder with the defender draped on him in the end zone for the score.

Butler’s size and length make him extremely difficult to cover when considering his catch radius; he is able to pluck balls out of the air over his head. On this play, we see Butler reel in a pass with outstretched hands in the end zone after running a fade up the sideline, making the catch for the score with the defender in near perfect position.

While standing nearly 6’6 and being a contested-catch specialist, Butler does a good job creating after the catch. He isn’t a shifty runner in space and doesn’t possess blistering speed, but he does have respectable long speed along with long strides to cover ground quickly. Watch this catch and run Butler makes on a deep over route. After catching the pass over the middle of the field, he leaps out of one diving tackle attempt as he follows his blocker up the sideline and finishes in the end zone for the TD.

Here’s another example of Butler creating after the catch on a quick pass to the flat. Turning up field right after making the catch, he evades one tackler and attempts to stiff arm another with his long arms before getting dragged down along the sideline.

When looking at negatives in Butler’s game, one constant that has followed him since college is drops. According to Andrew Erickson of FantasyPros, Butler in his final collegiate season dropped a pass every 6.45 of his catchable targets and had the highest drop rate (15.5%) of any receiver with at least 100 targets in his draft class. While he can make some impressive combative catches, Butler must make the routine catches more consistently if he hopes to secure a roster spot. Here is an example from the XFL this past season where Butler is in position to reel in the catch, but the ball flies through his hands in the end zone, missing out on a scoring opportunity.

Another potential negative that sticks out in Butler’s game is his inconsistency as a blocker. He possesses the size, strength, and arm length to dominate smaller defensive backs, but there are several instances where the want to wasn’t there on tape. Sure, he flashes moments where he displays his potential of a blocker, but Butler needs to show more consistent effort and aggressiveness to get his nose dirty as a blocker, particularly if he expects to play in the slot.


Hakeem Butler is a H/W/S specimen at the WR position who may not win as a savvy route runner, but his strengths as a contested-catch specialist as well as his ability to stretch the field vertically and create after the catch make him a legit threat on the outside or in the slot. He needs to show more consistency as a pass catcher, not allowing the drops that have plagued him in the past and sabotaged his chances of making a roster.

Ultimately, Butler needs to show that he can contribute in some form or fashion on special teams and make a case as a pumped-up slot receiver to stick on Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster. I would attest that Butler is a better overall receiver than WR Miles Boykin, but Boykin has the lead up on Butler thanks to his special teams prowess. With Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, and Allen Robinson II all locks to make the roster, Butler is going to have to compete for Pittsburgh’s 5th or 6th WR spot. His background as a slot receiver will help his case, especially if OC Matt Canada can utilize him down the field as a seam stretcher.

In short, Butler is a low risk/high reward signing who has the measurables and skill set to make an impact as a pass catcher. He must home in on catching the football consistently as well as giving consistent effort as a blocker to win a job in training camp.

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