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The AZ-Shank Redemption

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Cincinnati Bengals Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few short days after the Arizona Cardinals won their first game of the 2019 season, the buzz on Twitter from a few Cardinals’ fans is that WR Andy Isabella, the insanely productive 4.31 speedster the Cardinals selected at pick #62 in the 2019 NFL Draft (in the slot the Cardinals acquired from the Dolphins for QB Josh Rosen) can already be considered a bust—-and thus another ne’er-do-well to add to the list of Steve Keim’s epic early round failures.

Fans are clamoring about the fact that two of the WRs taken after Isabella, the Seahawks’ D.K. Metcalf (#64) and the Redskins’ Terry McLaurin (#76) have already combined for 31 receptions for 575 yards and 5 TD, while Andy isabella has yet to catch a single pass or warrant even a single target.

Sure—-that hurts—-but the Cardinals believe that they drafted their version of Metcalf in the 4th round when they got a potential steal in WR Hakeem Butler and the Cardinals already have a more talented and versatile version of Terry McLaurin in Christian Kirk. Unfortunately, Butler broke his thumb in the pre-season and Kirk is working his way back from a ugly looking ankle sprain that, thank goodness, isn’t season ending.

But heck, if fans want to compare draft picks, they could go ahead and argue that the Cardinals should have stayed at #1, taken DE Nick Bosa and then drafted QB Gardner Minshew with the #174th pick (6th round). Clearly, Minshew is better than Kyler Murray, right? In this week’s CBS QB Power Rankings, Minshew is #10, while Murray is #24.

However—-let’s go back and try to understand why Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury were so elated to pick Andy Isabella at #62.

1—-Isabella’s 4.31 40 at the 2019 NFL Combine was tied with WR Paris Campbell for the fastest time of any offensive player.

2—-Isabella’s production at UMass versus constant double teams was absolutely off the charts. Check out Isabella’s production over his last two college seasons next to Metcalf’s and McLaurin’s:

Isabella: 167 receptions for 2,718 yards and 23 TDs

Metcalf: 65 receptions for 1,215 yards and 12 TDs

McLaurin: 64 receptions for 1,137 yards and 17 TDs

Fact: Andy Isabella had more receptions and yards in 2017 and 2018 than Metcalf and McLaurin combined, by 38 catches and 366 yards!

3—Try to find a game tape of Metcalf’s and McLuarin’s that even remotely matches the performance Isabella had last year in Athens, Georgia versus the Georgia Bulldogs and a secondary that included Deandre Baker, the 1st CB taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. Isabella caught 15 passes on that day for 219 yards and 2 TDs.

4—-PFF had Isabella ranked as a 1st rounder and the #30 best prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. By their standards, Isabella, was rated the #1 most prolific deep threat of all the WRs in his class. “You wouldn’t think it, to look at the guy.” (Otis Boyd Redding)

So, why has Andy Isabella’s development with the Cardinals been slower than expected?

The Cardinals’ WR coaches have been trying to hone Isabella’s skills (route polishing, getting off press coverage and catching the ball in the triangle of his hands—-he’s tended to be too much of a body catcher at times). They have been teaching him techniques that he wasn’t taught at UMass. While these reps take time, in the long run, they are exactly what isabella needs in order to become one of the most prolific and productive WRs in the NFL.

It also should be noted that Isabella suffered a knee sprain about a week into training camp, which set him back for several days and kept him out of the team’s 1st pre-season game—-which for any rookie, particularly one in a deep. talented group, is difficult to climb back quickly from.

Kliff Kingsbury has said that part of the reason why Andy Isabella’s development has taken added time is that the coaches have been playing him at all of the WR spots—-they didn’t want to pigeonhole him as strictly a slot WR—-something the PFF analysts agree with:

As we are seeing with the Cardinals’ offense, the three receivers who have been getting the majority of the targets are Larry Fitzgerald (44), Christian Kirk (36) and David Johnson (33). It’s been difficult even for rookie KeeSean Johnson to get the number of targets he and the coaches would prefer. That’s what happens when you have a few go-to guys ahead of you.

But—-what the Cardinals could really use right now is a deep ball threat—-and let’s not forget that Andy Isabella, then coming back from his knee sprain, caught the one home run pass we have seen from the Cardinals this year:

Meanwhile, Isabella has been making solid contributions as a kickoff returner (5/105 yards/long of 32), 2 tackles on STs and has been making his mark in the offense on jet sweeps (3/16 yards, with a 12 yard gain called back via a holding call).

What is extraordinary about Andy Isabella isn’t just his blazing speed, quick feet and elite college production, it’s his relentless work ethic. Isabella always set high goals for himself and he works like a dog to accomplish them.

Before long, I believe that Cardinals’ fans will be calling him “Izzy Pop” or “The IZ-manian Devil” or “The AZ-Shank Redemption.”

Some fans already want to lock him up in the AZ-Shank prison of draft busts—-after a mere 5 games.

As Otis Boyd “Red” Redding would say, “some birds aren’t meant to be caged—-their feathers are just too bright.”

Therefore—-it’s time “to get busy living,” Andy.