When Hakeem Butler was selected 103rd overall in last week's NFL Draft, he broke a 33-year drought.
Since Tracy Henderson in 1985, no Iowa State wide receiver had been picked in the draft. Several came close — namely Allen Lazard and Todd Blythe — but Butler, thanks to his 6-foot-5 frame and big-play tendency, was the one to finally break the streak.
Even better for Butler is the team that drafted him.
Arizona fits just about everything you would want in a team as a rookie wide receiver — especially an athletic freak who can make spectacular catches downfield like Butler.
For starters, the Cardinals have a new coach whose entire reputation has been built upon his offensive genius. When Arizona hired Kilff Kingsbury in January, it was signing up for an up-tempo passing attack.
Kingsbury, as both an offensive coordinator and head coach at various schools, has mentored quarterbacks such as Baker Mayfield, Johnny Manziel, Case Keenum and 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. In his six years as head coach at Texas Tech, Kingsbury had three receivers hear their name called in the NFL Draft.
Simply put, Kingsbury knows offense. He's going to help the Cardinals improve upon their 32nd-ranked offense (14.1 points per game, worst in the NFL). In 2018, Arizona ranked 32nd in passing yards and 30th in passing touchdowns. Regardless of Arizona's 2019 record, I would almost guarantee they improve significantly upon those rankings.
Another huge factor will be No. 1 overall pick and 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray.
Butler and Murray saw each other up close last season when Oklahoma won at Jack Trice Stadium, 37-27.
Murray had 348 passing yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-29 passing. Three different receivers caught touchdowns from Murray that game.
Meanwhile, Butler was his usual self. He caught five passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
Murray's style of play should complement Butler's. Butler made his mark as a redshirt junior by catching contested passes deep downfield after plays fell apart. Murray will be one of the league's fastest quarterbacks on his feet and his ability to extend plays should only help Butler make the Sportscenter-esque catches he was famous for in Ames.
Murray has great arm strength, too, which means Butler should have plenty of deep routes under Kingsbury's passing attack.
Perhaps the best part of being a Cardinal for Butler is his competition in the wide receiver room.
He'll be learning from an NFL legend — Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald — from day one.
I could see it being a lot like Butler's relationship with Lazard when the two were at Iowa State. Butler has shown a willingness to be mentored, which may seem like a small thing, but it matters a lot in this instance.
Fitzgerald ranks second in NFL history in career receiving yards (behind Jerry Rice), third in receptions (Rice and Tony Gonzalez) and sixth in touchdowns. He has led the league in receptions twice and touchdowns twice, along with nine seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards.
Oh, yeah — Fitzgerald also has the best hands in NFL history. A Larry Fitzgerald-dropped pass happens about as frequently as LeBron James missing the NBA Finals. There have been more Marvel movies since 2008 than passes dropped by Larry Fitzgerald (who has played 174 of a possible 176 games in that stretch).
Larry Fitzgerald Career Drops (including postseason):— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) January 24, 2016
That bodes well for someone like Butler, who has a reputation for dropping passes. He'll get the chance to work behind one of the most accomplished wide receivers in league history and, within a few years, could be Fitzgerald's long-term replacement in Arizona.
There really isn't a better receiver to learn from than Fitzgerald, and Kingsbury is about the best coach you can ask for as a wide receiver or quarterback. We saw last season just how important the right fit is when Lazard struggled to latch on with Jacksonville and Green Bay. Butler seemed to have luck on his side this past weekend.
Of course, anything can happen in the NFL and being drafted by the right team doesn't guarantee success. But Butler's NFL career looks like it's off to a strong start thanks to Arizona's personnel.