Stuve: Cyclones who could have big roles in the next NFL season

Iowa State wide receivers Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler celebrate a touchdown during the 59th Annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30, 2017, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Cyclones defeated the Tigers 21-20.

Sam Stuve

With 11 former Cyclone football players in the National Football League (NFL), some are set to have a major impact on their teams’ success.

Two former Cyclone receivers, current Green Bay Packers receiver Allen Lazard and current Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Hakeem Butler, have earned high praise from either their teammates or coaches. 

After a rookie season (2018) where he caught one pass for seven yards and played in one game, Lazard caught 35 passes for 477 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games in the 2019 season for the Packers, who were eliminated in the NFC championship game by the San Francisco 49ers. 

Super Bowl Champion, eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers has praised Lazard and told Packers Wire, a Green Bay Packers sports page under the umbrella of the USA Today Sports Media Group, “By the end of the season, he was called upon many, many times in important situations to make big plays and he did. He’s just a great teammate, and ascending player, loved his approach every week and he made some big-time plays for us,” Rodgers said.

Green Bay Head Coach Matt LaFleur said, “Allen did a great job. I’m really excited about him. He earned it. He earned it, every rep he got. Just the effort, the intensity, he’s a very intelligent player. He earned it on special teams first. I think that’s kind of a good blueprint for young players coming in. You produce on special teams, you earn that trust from the coaching staff. He did that – not only from the coaching staff but from our players, as well, and specifically our quarterback.”

Teammate and three-time Pro Bowler wide receiver Davante Adams has hyped up Lazard as well.

Adams told Packers Wire, “Allen Lazard is one of the guys that’s shown he’s a really talented player on the field and he’s coming into his own confidence-wise. Once you start to have that true confidence, once you start to believe you’re a really, really good player, and you know your role on the team and all of that, that’s when you start to have an Allen Lazard. He’s a lot more confident. The coaches have obviously shared that with the media, the rest of the team. I’m really excited to see that.”

After a solid first full season in Green Bay, Lazard could be in for a stronger second season.

Another young former Iowa State receiver who is receiving praise from his head coach is Hakeem Butler.

In his rookie season, Butler (played at Iowa State from 2015-18) suffered a broken hand in the preseason and spent the year on the injured reserve list.

Now heading into the 2020 season, Butler, if healthy, should have an impact on the field for the Cardinals.

“He’s healthy,” former Texas Tech head coach and current Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury told Cards Wire in May. “He’s been working hard this offseason. He knows what we expect of him, and what we think he can be. I’m really excited when we can finally get him back on the field.”

The Cardinals are loaded at the wide receiver with 11-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald, four-time Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk, who had 700 receiving yards last season.

Despite this, Butler should see playing time as he is fast and the tallest receiver on the Cardinals roster at 6-foot-5. 

Fitzgerald, Hopkins and Kirk will be the main receivers defenses focus on, which could leave Butler, if he stays healthy and wins the battle among the young Cardinals receivers, often in one-on-one coverage, and his length and speed should allow him to have big play opportunities. 

One of Butler’s teammates at Iowa State, Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery (played at Iowa State from 2016-18), had a very productive rookie season in 2019.

Montgomery rushed for 889 yards and six rushing touchdowns, which led the team, in his rookie season. He had over 1,000 all-purpose yards last season on top of rushing for 889 yards, 185 receiving yards and finished with 1,074 all-purpose yards.

Former Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who was a three-time Pro Bowler and rushed for 8,197 rushing yards and 68 touchdowns in his nine-year career, broke down Montgomery’s skillset and how Montgomery could lead the Bears offense.

“Montgomery has the goods to lead the Bears’ offensive charge with his vision, ability to break tackles and speed in the open field,” Jones-Drew wrote in a article posted Aug. 3. “He should see closer to 280-300 carries [had 242 in 2019], easily gain 1,000-plus rushing yards and log double-digit TDs.”

Jones-Drew listed Montgomery as the 27th best running back in the NFL, in an article posted July 13 and said, “Montgomery’s success depends on whether or not Matt Nagy [Chicago’s head coach] wants to run the ball. They abandoned the run game week after week in 2019 and it showed in the team’s 8-8 record.”

In the 2020 NFL season, some former Cyclones are on new teams and could start for their new team.

One such player is linebacker A.J. Klein (2009-2012 at Iowa State).

After playing for the Carolina Panthers from 2013 to 2016 and the New Orleans Saints from 2017 to 2019, Klein signed a three-year $18 million contract with the Buffalo Bills in March.

Klein is now reunited with Sean McDermott, who was the defensive coordinator with Carolina from 2011 to 2016 and is now Buffalo’s head coach.

According to, “In April, shortly after the Bills signed Klein, McDermott said it was like watching a little brother go off and do his own thing when he (McDermott) went to Buffalo and Klein went to the Saints.”

“It was fun to watch A.J. from a distance in New Orleans and then for us to reconnect through the free agency period, and he’s now got a family, which is really cool,” McDermott said.

Klein has been productive in his eight-year career, totaling 339 tackles, 10.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.

He is one of the Bills linebackers that will compete for the third starting linebacker spot, after 13-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler Lorenzo Alexander retired in January.

Regardless if he starts or not, Klein’s veteran presence should help a young Bills defense that allowed the third-fewest yards in the NFL last season (298.3) and the second-fewest points per game (16.2). 

A team in Buffalo’s division, the Miami Dolphins, had a former Cyclone starting on defense last season, Jamal Perry (formerly Jomal Wiltz, who played for Iowa State in the 2015 and 2016 season).

Wiltz had 58 tackles and one interception in his rookie season.

According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald Sports, Perry will compete for reps at the cornerback slot.

It should be noted that with the 30th pick in the NFL Draft, the Dolphins selected Noah Igbinoghene, who is expected to compete for that spot as well.

A college teammate of A.J. Klein’s, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele (played from 2007-11 at Iowa State) has signed to play for a new team as well.

In July, Osemele, a two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion, signed a one year, $2 million contract to play with the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Charles Goldman of Chiefs Wire said after Osemele’s signing, “At his best, Osemele is known as a finisher and a force in the ground game. He has long arms, quick feet and powerful hands. He’ll certainly add a mentality to the offensive line that it feels Kansas City has been lacking since the early 2000s.”

Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid told the media Aug. 4, “I sure like him…we had him in the Pro Bowl one year — I liked him there as a guy. I’m glad he’s with us. It builds depth for us and competition. As you know that generates good offensive line play or any position play when you have that kind of competition,” according to Chiefs Wire.

Osemele, with his talent and experience, should be a starter for the Chiefs going forward as guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (started 14 games at right guard last season) and rookie guard/tackle Lucas Niang have both opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.

While all former Cyclones who are on NFL rosters could have an impact in 2020, these players may have the biggest impact in the 2020 season.

The 2020 NFL season is scheduled to begin Sept. 10 with Osemele and the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans.