In the middle of this week’s ROTB podcast hosted by Blake Murphy, Johnny and I debated whether WR Andy Isabella should be considered a bust at this point.
Johnny is absolutely correct that one would expect much more production in 23 games from a #62 pick (Round 2) in the draft---and made worse by the fact that D.K. Metcalf was on the board—-and that the #62 pick was the 2nd rounder the Cardinals received from the Dolphins for Josh Rosen.
I offered a few counter points, as you can hear if you take a listen to the ROTB podcast. But, here are the full slate of contexts that I would like to add to the points I made on the podcast.
1---when Isabella was picked, he was the fastest (4.31---Metcalf ran 4.33), and by far the most productive WR on the board. One could say, yeah but he played at UMass---but remember Andy’s signature game was at Georgia where he caught 15/219/2-tds versus an SEC secondary that included a 1st round draft pick in DeAndre Baker.
Metcalf: 3 seasons, 67/1,228/18.3/14-tfds (missed 6 games his final season due to a back injury—-the medical red flags in him were the main reason why he slid to pick #64—-back injuries to taller WRs in particular are a worry because of all the crashing to the turf they do on 50/50 balls).
Isabella: 4 seasons: 231/3,326/15.3/30-tds, plus rushing for 40/342/8.6/2-tds.
3---K-Raid fit: ability to stretch the field and be a running and RAC threat.
4---Complimentary WR, speed-wise to Fitz who then was WR1 and Kirk who was W2 (the 2018 WRs in AZ had consistent difficulty gaining separation).
5---The thought at the time was that Kingsbury was going to play a majority of the snaps in 10 personnel (4 WRs. 1 RB)), which is why they drafted Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson too.
6---they had already signed a tall, fast (4.35) WR with a history of back issues, in Kevin White and they had high hopes for him that he would finally shine playing in his college offense (WVU—-Dana Holgersen) under Kliff Kingsbury.
But, here is a factor that should not be overlooked or underestimated---WR coach Jerry Sullivan is a stickler for practicing and perfecting the fundamentals. In some ways. for rookie WRs working under Jerry Sullivan, it’s like a very good young golfer having to learn a new swing.
There were bound to be some growing pains for Isabella and Johnson. The veterans like Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper already had NFL experience and had been trained in the fundamentals---for them, they had an immediate leg up on the rookies, even thought the rookie had more potential.
When the Seahawks drafted Metcalf, they planned to play him right away because Doug Baldwin had just retired. Metcalf wasn’t facing crowded WR room.
Plus---and this is big factor----I would bet you that D.K. Metcalf would have had similar assimilation problems getting used to Jerry Sullivan’s meticulous drilling of the fundamentals. Kevin White and Hakeem Butler couldn’t cut it. And say what you will, both White and Butler have above average physical gifts.
After the Cardinals re-signed Fitz again and traded for DeAndre Hopkins, that automatically pushed Isabella and Johnson to WR4 and WR5. As often as Kyler Murray likes to throw to Chase Edmonds, Isabella and Johnson this year would be fortunate to be thrown 2-3 times a game. As I iterated on the podcast, “there is only one football.”
So yes, Andy Isabella’s production (11/154/14.0/2-tds) is not what one would expect from a 2nd round draft pick, but it also isn’t that bad considering he is the 4th WR on a unit that features 2 future 1st Ballot Hall of Fame WRs and a WR3 who played at Texas A&M with Kyler Murray.
Therefore, even though Andy Isabella’s production isn’t eye-popping, he is filling one of the most important roles on the offense as the team’s fastest deep threat. Kyler is learning that he has to throw the ball earlier than he previously has on the deep passes to Andy---Andy has had to slow down on most of them. And even though one deep pass was thrown too far to the right and another was thrown deep when Isabella broke off his route---the deep passes are backing defenses off, which in turn, is opening up the short to intermediate routes and the running game——which has been a benefit for a Cardinals’ offense that currently is #1 in the NFL in total yards per game at 419.1.
In my opinion, as improved as Andy Isabella is this year (watch the crisp, sharpness of his route running, for example), he’s only going to get stronger and more dynamic as he keeps developing his game. While a year of getting drilled in the fundamentals by Jerry Sullivan was a bit of a step back, all that hard work is about to pay off. Thus, for now, if Andy can keep backing defenses and free safeties off and come up with a big play every now then, his role of the offense will remain a unique and very valuable one.
Dedication: One of the my main goals as a high school teacher was to make sure that every one of my students knew about Pat Tillman and the extraordinary story of his life. Thanks to my students, I have a poster of Pat Tillman at home that a group of them made in CAD class (taught by my great colleague Ralph DiBona, whom the students all love). In the poster Pat in kneeling on the sidelines in his Cardinals’ uniform (the classic shot shown below) in front of spectacular photograph of the twin towers before the 9/11 attack in NYC.
Happy Birthday, Pat Tillman. To know of your patriotism and sheer courage is a profound blessing and you are a source of hope and strength in troubled times, such as these..