PITTSBURGH — It’s human nature to try to put people into familiar molds.
When we’re talking about an NFL player getting a second chance, it’s easy to envision a young player, fresh out of college, not taking his first chance seriously. Someone that was used to dominating others physically might be over-confident in making the transition to the NFL, and suffer as a result.
If that player gets a second chance, it’s easy to envision him being hungry to prove those that looked past him in first chance wrong.
If you want to try to apply those patterns to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hakeem Butler, well, you might be wrong on all counts.
Butler, who is technically getting his fourth NFL chance, after being released by the Arizona Cardinals a year after being a fourth-round pick, said that his initial failures in the NFL came as a result of a lack of confidence in his abilities, and not the other way around.
“I was 21, 22, coming into the league,” he said. “My mental state at that time was just very low. Not confident at all. I truly lost all my confidence when I got to Arizona, and I think that’s a big part of why I’m not there and what happened.”
Butler got to Arizona in 2019, then suffered a broken hand in training camp, forcing him to miss his entire rookie season. His second offseason was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and then he was released without ever playing a game.
He spent a few weeks on the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad before getting signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles, who played him in one game, tried to convert him to tight end. The following summer, he was out of the NFL.
Since then, Butler has tried to play “anywhere and everywhere,” looking to get another shot at the NFL. He spent two summers playing in the CFL before joining the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks. He led the XFL in receiving touchdowns this season with eight and caught 51 passes for 599 yards in 10 games.
The Steelers snapped him, possibly on reference from assistant general manager Andy Weidl, as the club has signed a number of former Eagles players since he came to Pittsburgh from Philly in 2022.
“There was a lot of connections going on in the spring, a lot of people I know on the Steelers,” Butler said. “They believed in me. They’d been talking to my people for a while.”
Now the former Iowa State standout is back in the NFL and looking to turn this shot — which he knows might be his last — into the one that makes him stick in the NFL.
The 6-foot-5 wide receiver can’t help but stand out at practice, and he brings a rare combination of size and speed to any wide receiver room. But he’ll need to show the consistency and maturity that he knows he didn’t his first time around. That’s why he says he’s not out to prove anyone wrong this time around.
“I really don’t have anything to prove to anybody, really,” he said. “For my whole life, I just wanted to prove everybody wrong, and that shit is very draining, constantly worrying about people that don’t give a damn about you. So, like I said, I’m just having fun, enjoying the game that I love, and letting the chips fall where they may. …
“This is a chance and I’m just trying to take advantage of it every day.”