To say the road has been bumpy for Hakeem Butler would be a colossal understatement. From a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to where he is now — it’s not the path anyone would’ve predicted for him. Now that Butler is back in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, what can we expect from him, both from a real-life and fantasy football standpoint?
Pittsburgh Steelers Sign Hakeem Butler
Butler is truly an elite athlete. He ran a 4.48 40-time at 6’5″, 227 pounds. His speed, burst, agility, and catch radius are all over the 85th percentile. By all accounts, Butler shouldn’t have been able to fail. Yet, he did.
Some analysts had Butler as their WR1 in the 2019 class, at least at some point in the process. That was a loaded class containing Marquise Brown, Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, and Terry McLaurin, to name the most prominent guys from that year. Yet, Butler fell all the way to Day 3, going as the first pick of the fourth round to the Arizona Cardinals.
However, Butler didn’t play a snap as a rookie. Without ever appearing in a game for them, the Cardinals cut him ahead of his sophomore season.
The Philadelphia Eagles then took a shot on Butler, converting him to a tight end. He appeared in just two games, failing to catch his lone target. Prior to the start of the 2021 season, the Eagles became the second team to give up on Butler.
Hakeem Butler Dominated in the XFL
Unable to get a job in either 2021 or 2022, Butler resurfaced earlier this year when he made his XFL debut with the St. Louis Battlehawks.
In the XFL, Butler absolutely dominated. In eight games, he caught 51 of 73 targets for 599 yards and eight touchdowns. Butler’s targets, receptions, and yards were good for second in the league, while the eight scores led the XFL.
Watching Butler play, he looked different. Now, to be fair, the level of competition is obviously significantly weaker. Nevertheless, Butler looked bigger, faster, and stronger than everyone out there. It was clear after only a couple of games that he was going to be in the NFL next season.
The Steelers’ Depth Chart Provides Butler With a Chance
Sure enough, the Steelers took a shot on Butler. On May 17, Adam Schefter reported the Steelers’ signing of Butler. The question now is whether he can restart his NFL career and be a mainstay in the league.
No spring football player is likely ever going to take the NFL by storm. If these guys can work their way into sustained NFL careers, that’s success in and of itself. Butler would do well to maintain a spot on an NFL roster.
The Steelers are locked in at WR1 and WR2 with Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. However, beyond those two, it’s really wide open.
Pittsburgh’s presumptive WR3 is Allen Robinson II, who is 30 years old and looked completely washed the past two seasons. The Steelers’ WR4 is Calvin Austin III, a special teamer and gadget player. It’s certainly not likely, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Butler managed to earn the Steelers’ WR3 spot.
Of course, no one should expect this, and fantasy managers shouldn’t have Butler anywhere near their draft boards. He’s still not even a lock to make the team. Even if the Steelers carry seven receivers, Johnson, Pickens, Robinson, and Austin are locks.
Miles Boykin is a good blocker and special teamer, so he’s likely to stick around. Likewise, Gunner Olszewski is also an excellent special teamer. Butler will have to beat out one of these guys.
With that said, if Butler truly is a much-improved receiver, and it wasn’t just the lesser competition propping him up, there’s at least a path to relevance here. If he is indeed the third-most talented wide receiver on the team, which is not impossible, Butler may be an injury or some more poor play from Robinson away from getting a chance.
Don’t get your hopes up when it comes to Butler, or any spring football signee, but don’t completely dismiss him either. Pay close attention to Steelers’ training camp and the buzz from beat reporters. If Butler makes the team and can climb the depth chart, there just may be something here.
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