Could Simi Fehoko be what Hakeem Butler wasn’t for the Steelers?
One of my favorite under-the-radar signings this offseason was the Steelers’ signing of Hakeem Butler. Despite having seen minimal success since his days at Iowa State, the talent alone was enough to provide intrigue to the average fan. After all, you cannot teach 6’5″ with sub 4.5 speed.
Although we saw flashes from Butler in the early portions of camp, he was unable to separate on a consistent basis, likely due to subpar route-running and less-than-impressive aggressiveness for a receiver his size. Butler was recently released by the team, and, while his role on the team would not have been a large one, it does affect the Steelers’ overall depth at the position.
Fortunately, the team was able to stash another big-bodied receiver on their practice squad. Last week, it was announced that former Cowboys receiver Simi Fehoko would be joining the Steelers on the practice squad. Fehoko was a 2021 draft darling for many in these parts, including myself. There was a lot of rawness for a rookie that was going to be 24 years old, but the traits were there. He first caught the attention of the draft community when he completely went off against UCLA in 2020, hauling in 16 passes for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns. From there, his draft stock began to rise, but it was not enough for an NFL team to take him on Day 2.
Fehoko was instead taken in the fifth round (179th overall) by the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent the past two NFL seasons and played minimally. Recording only three catches on four targets in that time frame, Fehoko did not do enough to earn his stay in Dallas in 2022. He is now a member of the Steelers practice squad, and in the event of a Myles Boykin injury, he would be in line for work on both offense and special teams.
Fehoko is a team-first player who was a special teams standout at Stanford. His “physical bully” mentality as a receiver down the field has allowed him to enjoy success on contested catches, and his physicality as a blocker has always made an impact in the running game and on special teams. This could be the trait that allows him to get aboard the roster and see the field at some point in 2023.
Here is what Dane Brugler from the Athletic had to say about Fehoko as a draft prospect back in 2021:
Fehoko is older and still growing into the position, but he has impressive short-area quickness for his size with the hand-eye coordination to reel in tough throws. He offers enticing pass-catching traits and special teams ability worth developing.
Here was a pre-draft evaluation from another credible draft analyst, Tony Pauline.
Positives: First-year starter coming off a career season. Large, game-controlling wideout who was the go-to receiver who could not be stopped at Stanford. Physical, outmuscles cornerbacks, and wins out for contested throws. Displays terrific eye/hand coordination as well as focus. Tracks the pass in the air, extends to make the reception away from his frame, and possesses soft as well as strong hands.
Comes back to the ball and follows the quarterback across the field to make himself an available target. Athletic, gets vertical and plucks the ball out of the air. Stout and rarely knocked out of his pass route by the inadvertent hit. Works his hands to separate from defenders and makes the reception in stride.
Negatives: Plays to one speed, does not play to his forty-yard dash time, and lacks a burst. Occasionally lets passes slip through his hands. Rounds off routes and displays limited quickness in and out of breaks.
Analysis: After a productive freshman season, Fehoko improved during his shortened sophomore campaign. He’s a big possession receiver and an awesome red zone threat with potential as a fourth or even third receiver at the next level.
The evaluations above are exactly what Fehoko has been two years into his NFL career. His 6’3″, 220-pound frame allows him to have success on jump balls, but his route-running and ability to create separation late are both poor. Perhaps the biggest reason Hakeem Butler did not last with the Steelers, however, was the fact that his physicality did not match his big frame. There was not any “dawg” mentality with Butler, and ultimately, it cost him a roster spot in the Steel City. If Fehoko can at least provide physicality, I think he gets activated on the roster at some point during the season, even if it be simply for special teams purposes.
What are your thoughts on the Steelers new wide receiver? Do you see him making an impact in 2022? Be sure to let us know your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers in the comment section below!
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