SAN ANTONIO— Friday night's Valero Alamo Bowl between Iowa State and Washington State showed a glimpse of Iowa State's future.
The Cyclones played Washington State tough. They overcame a 14-0 lead to nearly tie the game on two separate occasions, and won the second half 16-7. It was arguably the most entertaining bowl game of 2018.
Iowa State's three leading tacklers on the night — along with its leading passer, three leading receivers and all four rushers — could return in 2019. The future looks bright for coach Matt Campbell's squad.
But that future might not include David Montgomery or Hakeem Butler. Both Montgomery and Butler, a junior running back and a redshirt junior receiver, respectively, have NFL decisions in their near futures.
Frankly, both Montgomery and Butler should do what's best for their individual careers. That means taking the next step and declaring for the NFL Draft.
The buzz is there for both players.
Hakeem pic.twitter.com/zMZqjc2hoD— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) December 29, 2018
David Montgomery pic.twitter.com/M3mmpYfgXT— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 29, 2018
Friday/Saturday Bowl watch list:Wazzu QB Gardner Minshew is a mid-rounder to watch in a weak class of passers.Iowa State RB David Montgomery has power and hands; could be RB1.David Sills is without Will Grier for the bowl, but looks like a starting WR for the pros— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 28, 2018
CBS Sports even had Butler listed as the No. 24 overall pick in its latest mock draft, updated the day of the Alamo Bowl.
According to Chris Trapasso, who updated the mock draft, "Butler is a 6-foot-6 rebounder with plus long speed and balance with the ball in the hands."
Neither player has much left to accomplish at the collegiate level. Sure, there's a world where David Montgomery comes back for his senior campaign, breaks some records and gets an invite to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. But that's unlikely, especially in today's pass-happy world of football.
Butler's 2018 season was the best by any Iowa State receiver ever. The only seasons in the same category were Allen Lazard in 2017 and Todd Blythe in 2005. Butler eclipsed both of them in yards by over 300 and managed to reel in nine touchdowns, which was tied for second best in school history.
Simply put, Butler and Montgomery have no individual reasons to come back for 2019. There are always team goals, of course — the Cyclones were two possessions away from playing for a Big 12 Championship this season and one play from winning the Alamo Bowl — but for all intents and purposes, Montgomery and Butler have achieved all they need to achieve at this level.
After the Alamo Bowl, Butler shut down any NFL talk. Reports have said he's already out the door, while others say he's still 50-50. Butler could gain at least a little from coming back for one more year.
There's a report out there that Hakeem Butler is forgoing his senior season and entering the NFL Draft after tonight. Just spoke to a source very close to the situation who says Butler has not made up his mind. Decision likely coming next week.— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) December 28, 2018
He's had a problem with drops in his Iowa State career and until he added weight recently, Butler was a 6-foot-6 stick. Coming back for another college season to pad his numbers, spend more time in the weight room and shore up the drops could get him a bigger payday.
"We just lost a game, so it's kind of hard to even think about going anywhere," Butler said. "I'm just focused on what just happened right now."
He was asked about his next couple days and what could lie ahead. His response, again, was simple.
Coming back for his final season is also no guarantee of NFL success. He only has to look at his former teammate, Lazard, to see that. Lazard came back for his senior season, set a school record for career receptions, yards and single-season touchdowns, and then went undrafted.
Montgomery, on the other hand, doesn't have much to gain from returning. Running back is a tough position and very few players last long in the NFL at that spot.
Teams are passing up on veteran running backs in favor of young athletes with fewer miles on their bodies. The five leading rushers in the NFL in 2018 are age 23, 24, 21, 22 and 22. Only one of the NFL's top 20 rushers this season is over 27 years old.
Barring a Hall of Fame-worthy NFL career, Montgomery will likely end up in that boat as well. That means he's probably looking at a 5-10 year NFL career. Montgomery was not made available for the media after the Alamo Bowl (in which he rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown), but he has shut down those conversations in the past.
It's time for Butler and Montgomery to get paid.