clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Curious Case of Andy Isabella

New, comments

Andy Isabella trended last night in Arizona after a fellow rookie WR went off in the playoffs...what’s the deal here, you say?

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

So...

The NFL playoffs happened and despite the fact that the Cardinals weren’t playing, rookie WR Andy Isabella was actually trending on Twitter in the Phoenix, AZ market.

Huh?

The Seahawks rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf went off against the Eagles secondary over wild card weekend, for 160 yards on 7 catches and a touchdown.

Isabella, meanwhile, ended the Cardinals season without a catch in his last 2 games, playing only 1% of the snaps in the season finale. The reason fans are tweeting about him is because...he was selected AHEAD of Metcalf in the 2019 NFL draft.

To many, this is just a plain indictment of the scouting staff of the Arizona Cardinals. But is it?

Let’s take a look at some of the timeline leading up to the present day between Isabella and Metcalf and part of the frustration of Cardinals fans, as well as what the future could look like.

JANUARY:

Isabella was one of the more hyped prospects at the senior bowl, coming off a 1,700 yard season at UMass:

However, there were mixed results with Isabella. He played exclusively in the slot despite the fact that he was an outside receiver throughout his collegiate career.

He had some fans but also...had some struggles as well:

The drops, with his hands and especially catching passes with his body, became a concern for many:

The Athletic had some interesting comments about him, from both draft analyst Dane Brugler and film expert Ted Nguyen:

“ Undersized frame with maxed out bulk...smaller catch radius, relying on his body to finish grabs...not going to win many contested tries...needs to be

more efficient at the top of routes, forcing extra steps...rarely faced press coverage in college and can be jostled by physical defenders early in the route...would benefit by adding more pacing to his patterns...size limits his upside as a blocker...limited experience as a punt returner in college (9/77/0).

So in short: the biggest issues were routes and hands leading to drops, with small size forcing him more inside.

Essentially, the point is that running crisp routes and catching the ball is the key point of what a wide receiver does.

Some looked at that and saw it as a warning for Isabella’s season. When the game actually happened though....was another story that added to the narrative.

He caught 7 passes for 73 yards and a TD and was named the Senior Bowl North Squad’s MVP. Oh.

On the other side of the coin, D.K. Metcalf blew up the combine with a 4.3 time at his size of 6’3, 228 lbs. Medicals showed a non-spinal neck injury and outside of a REALLY poor 3-cone test (for lateral agility) he hit a lot of metrics. But that made a lot of people believe that he was essentially a one-route deep threat who couldn’t separate.

MAY:

The Cardinals traded Josh Rosen to the Dolphins after selecting Kyler Murray, with the Fins trading back in order to have a lower pick before sending it to Arizona, who took Isabella.

Metcalf went to Seattle 2 picks later...which considering the size comparison was interesting to say the least.

Even NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah made note of it during the draft:

Others mentioned the fact that looking at the PURE cost for Isabella, Arizona used a 1st, 3rd and a 5th to get Rosen and then traded that for a 2nd and took Isabella, a slot receiver according to many, who had world class speed.

It was considered a reach by some, but for others they felt it was a great pick.

  • Kliff Kingsbury: “he’s a little beast.”
  • Mark Whipple, Isabella’s former coach at UMass: “he’s one of the hardest working players I’ve ever coached.” (His son, Spencer Whipple, is on Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals staff as well)
  • Adrian Wilson compared him to a Julian Edelman type this month as well on the Big Red Rage show
  • And Pro Football Focus raved about him as well from their analytics data...

Others mentioned that they liked Hakeem Butler as a wide receiver (taken in the 4th round) better than Isabella in the second.

AUGUST:

Entering into training camp there was a tale of two receivers.

D.K. Metcalf:

And Andy Isabella losing out to KeeSean Johnson (a 6th rounder) and Damiere Byrd in snaps and also falling way behind after an injury.

Not to mention how short Butler fell of expectations as well.

Personally? I think there wasn’t too many problems that I had with the selection as, if Isabella was really a slot, it meant that AZ’s plan for a big play outside receiver was a different sort of choice.

It wasn’t Metcalf but rather the choice to:

-Sign Kevin White and expect him to be an impact receiver...except that he was done.

-Move on from White and pay a good amount of money to Michael Crabtree to fill that role only to move on from him a few weeks later after he seemingly looked done.

SEASON:

Metcalf paid off on his hype during the season, with 58 catches for 900 yards (15 yards per catch) and made his name as a big play deep threat.

Isabella, meanwhile, was barely worked into the Cardinals offense and was behind other players for the majority of the season. Outside of an 88 yard TD against the Niners and a 50+ yard catch and run against the Buccaneers, he finished with only 9 receptions for 189 yards (still an impressive 21.0 yards per reception).

In fact, it’s those stats that had some saying the Cards needed MORE Isabella.

But overall for a Cardinals team that NEEDED a wide receiver to step up...Isabella didn’t. For one reason or another.

You can say that it was because he had Kirk and Fitzgerald ahead of him and you’re not taking your best two weapons at the receiver position off the field to put a rookie in.

There were plays where he looked like a liability and had a penalty or messed up, as well as the fact that AZ had to move him back outside (was that another miss by Keim and the staff in moving a guy out of his natural position?) and he didn’t perform or see it “click”.

CURRENT:

And that leads us to today, with these tweets being sent out:

All in all, there’s a lot of folks complaining, (not to mention other wide receivers taken after Isabella outperformed him in his rookie season) but what does the future hold?

Let’s look at the positives and negatives and make a projection:

The Good:

Isabella was compared to Julian Edelman, even by the Cardinals’ own personnel staff. Take a look at Edelman’s stat line to begin his NFL career:

Essentially, Edelman himself was a non-factor early in his career before becoming essentially a Super Bowl MVP with the Patriots who couldn’t be stopped out of the slot and consistently hit around 900+ yards every season he played double-digit games. But it took him 4 years to develop, spending time behind Wes Welker in New England to do so.

Isabella, from a small college, is raw and worked himself into a 2nd round pick after coming in without any sort of route experience into college. And he still has that work ethic...Kingsbury’s never seemed to indicate any concern with his progress.

If Isabella’s progress means that his routes are improving with NFL coaching and filmwork, perhaps he turns into an Edelman + sort of weapon...that can run a 4.28 40. A mismatch at any spot on the field or out of the backfield on jet sweeps that can also make big splashy plays down the field.

The Bad:

The bad is that...there’s not a lot of times we see players truly transcend or become more than what they were in college. Isabella was noted to have produced his deep plays in the Bulldogs game once Georgia “let up” and was in more zone coverages versus pressing him at the line, and even his passes caught this year he allowed the ball to come into his body versus plucking it out of the air.

That was notable in preseason as it allowed several passes to be broken up by defenders. It might be a limitation where the fact is that Isabella just isn’t at an NFL caliber of running routes and catching the ball and that part doesn’t change as much as Arizona anticipated.

Arizona likely didn’t draft Isabella with “star” expectations, but many fans seeing him paired with Kyler Murray were hoping for a gem from a small school similar to John Brown, who’s looked like that in Buffalo this year. And usually like Brown, players who become stars show those flashes from the get-go to where even if they aren’t consistently producing, it’s hard to take them off the field. Isabella hasn’t been that so far and seems to have gone backwards vs. forwards in terms of playing time.

The Ugly:

The truth is that Arizona didn’t get as much as they wanted from rookies this season not named Kyler Murray and Jalen Thompson. Byron Murphy showed flashes along with struggles and both Hakeem Butler and Zach Allen got injured (and in both cases seemed to be losing time and snaps to other players as well).

All in all, if Arizona had drafted Metcalf, we’re probably talking about them seeing if Larry Fitzgerald comes back and adding a lineman to either side of the trench and hoping that D.K. took the next step.

In reality, the lack of finding weapons and immediate impact at the receiver position likely means that Arizona will be taking ANOTHER receiver early in the 2020 draft...and/or hoping that Larry Fitzgerald bails them out again by playing another season.

Plus, if Fitz DOES return and Isabella’s a slot guy....that might be a whole 2nd season wasted to see what he can offer.

It’s disappointing as fans have wanted to see the Cardinals stack a successful draft with rookie impact while they have a window to make a big-time playoff push before Kyler (assuming that he grows into a top-notch young quarterback) asks for 12 of State Farm Stadium or the like for his next contract.

MY BELIEF:

For my sake...it’s hard to think that one of the most prolific wide receivers in the NCAA over the last two years could suddenly come into the NFL and make zero impact and be a complete bust without major health issues.

Speed kills and Isabella showed flashes. Ultimately, I think that it’s just a question of what level of expectations you have.

And in a way, it’s up to the Cardinals to figure out their wide receiver position with, or without, Isabella’s impact.

Because as everyone knows, even for an all-world talent like Isabella, “potential ain’t S**t” as Bruce Arians said: the league moves on quickly if production doesn’t follow the pick.