For the first time since 2014, Iowa State had players taken in the NFL draft, but the success of wide receiver Hakeem Butler and running back David Montgomery also comes with a cost.
All eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy and the offense after the departures.
“We’ve got a lot of guys stepping up now,” Purdy said. “We’re just [going to] trust in what we have and build off that and so far in the spring and summer it’s looked great.”
Purdy might be the player most affected by the losses. The young quarterback has transitioned smoothly to the offense, thanks to one of the best running backs in college at the time, but while Montgomery helped take the load off, Butler helped bail him out countless times.
Off a pressure ridden throw, the ball was like a magnet to the 6-foot-6 receiver. With top-notch size and athleticism, Butler was exactly what a true freshman quarterback needed.
Without Butler, Purdy will need to spread the ball around a bit more because no one on the team measures up to Butler from a physical standpoint. The receiving core will be young, but it will be led by a couple of experienced veterans.
“This is the first time I’ve had to be in a leadership role,” said senior wide receiver Deshaunte Jones. “I’m excited to just lead the younger guys and help them get to where I am now.”
Jones racked up 43 catches and 4 touchdowns last season for 366 yards.
The other receiver experienced in this system is sophomore Tarique Milton.
Milton returned punts for the Cyclones last season but also proved to be a reliable target alongside Butler, Jones and undrafted NFL hopeful Matthew Eaton.
As a backup, redshirt junior Landen Akers filled in nicely last season and he will come back to play this year again.
The Cyclones were also able to acquire some more experience with graduate transfer La’Michael Pettway.
Pettway played for Arkansas last season and was one of the Razorbacks’ most reliable targets. The big receiver hauled in 30 catches for 499 yards and 4 touchdowns.
2018 four-star recruit Joseph Scates will also come into the mix this season after redshirting his first season.
The wide receiver position is seeing a lot of players step up into bigger roles than they had last year, and the running back situation is no different.
“[Montgomery] was just somebody who would just do something totally incredible,” said offensive lineman Julian Good-Jones. “I mean it’s wide open. We’ve got a lot of backs who can do a lot of things.”
Two of the running backs were featured last year when Montgomery was out of the game and after Montgomery was suspended for the first half of the Texas game, redshirt junior Kene Nwangwu took over as the lead back.
Nwangwu returned kicks for the Cyclones last year and was named to the Second-Team All-Big 12 as a returner. He is an elusive runner that is quick and shifty.
Redshirt senior Sheldon Croney Jr. also experienced some playing time last season but he profiles much different.
Croney Jr. is a straight-line runner with strength, which compliments Nwangwu well, but neither of them has the strength or elusiveness of the predecessor, so the job might be given to someone younger.
The Cyclones have a couple of four-star recruit running backs that are heading into their freshman year, and both of them are getting real shots at the vacant starting spot.
Much like the wide receiver situation, there might be a committee approach to filling the big shoes Montgomery left behind.
“They’re all great guys, they all love to compete, they’re hard workers […] It’s going to be interesting to see,” Purdy said.
There is no hope in replicating the production that Butler and Montgomery brought to the team, but the Cyclones have several players stepping up into bigger roles that have a better chance to show the coaching staff and the fans what they can do.