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Andy Isabella: Shades of Green and Tilley

Arizona Cardinals v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Background: EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 11: Andy Isabella #17 of the Arizona Cardinals has a catch against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on October 11, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Arizona Cardinals defeated the New York Jets 30-10.

When HC Kliff Kingsbury, WRC Shawn Jefferson and QB Kyler Murray figure out how to throw consistently on time to Andy Isabella, Isabella is going to emerge as one of the brightest young WRs in the NFL.

Fact: Andy Isabella is a couple mili-seconds faster that D.K. Metcalf

Proof: at 2019 Combine Rich Eisen and Daniel Jeremiah sync up Isabella’s 4.31 and Metcalf’s 4.33 at the 30 second mark of this video —- see for yourself:

Sure, right now it appears that the Cardinals made a big mistake by taking Andy Isabella over D.K. Metcalf —- but, at the time, the Cardinals thought they already had their tall 6-3, 216, 4.3 WR in Kevin White who shined in an Air Raid offense under Dana Holgersen at West Virginia.

The irony is that both Kevin White and D.K. Metcalf had been hampered by neck injuries, which for taller WRs is a red flag and why Metcalf slid to end of Round 2.

When the Cardinals compared Andy Isabella’s college production to D.K. Metcalf’s the disparity was eye-popping:

  • Isabella: 231 catches for 3,526 yds., 15.3 ave., 30 TDs, plus 40/342/8.6/2 TDs rushing
  • Metcalf: 67 catches for 1,228 yds., 18.3 ave., 14 TDs, no rushes.

Theses stats are further amazing when once considers the context that Andy Isabella was double and triple teamed on a regular basis being by far the top playmaker at UMass, while D.K. Metcalf had the luxury of playing opposite current NFL star WR A.J. Brown.

The question with Isabella was the level of competition that UMass played, which was actually stronger than people think, playing SEC schools like Mississippi St. and Georgia. Thus, when Andy isabella put this stunning performance on tape versus Georgia, it verified Isabella’s ability to play well versus top-level competition.

When you watch Isabella’s superb performance versus Georgia and other opponents on this tape, you can just imagine why Kliff Kingsbury is enamored with him because of not only Isabella’s home run speed deep, but look at what he does with simple WR hitch screens and flanker reverses, both staples of Kingsbury’s K-Raid.

Fact: Andy Isabella gains separation off his breaks quicker than any WR on the roster. Andy Isabella has rare separation skills.

But, in the NFL, when WRs are quick to separate the ball has to come out right off of the WR’s break. When the ball is thrown late CBs and FSs are very quick to recover.

Case in Point:

This is a play that should be an easy “quick out” completion 10 out of 10 times.

  • Notice the cushion that Rams’ CB Troy Hill is giving Isabella.
  • 1st problem is: pass comes out far too late.
  • 2nd problem is: Christian Kirk ruins the whole scheme by getting tied up in press coverage, which causes Isabella to slow his route for fear of running right into Kirk.
  • The Cardinals’ WRs way too often had issues of poor spacing and this takes the cake. In retrospect, the Cardinals should have lined Isabella up closer to the right tackle.
  • It’s totally unfair of fans to blame Andy Isabella for this pick six.
  • What Kirk should have done is either make a more athletic move to get off the press or, when bottled up, just stay tied up at the line of scrimmage so as to keep the “quick out” door open for Isabella.
  • Adjustment: make a pre-snap nod for Andy to run a “quick post” pass here because of Hill’s cushion and because of the way Hill is shading his cushion to Andy’s outside shoulder. If so, this play could have looked like the most famous quick post in Cardinals’ history: Larry Fitzgerald’s 4th quarter TD in the Super Bowl that gave the Cardinals the lead.
  • These kind of adjustments come through time and many reps in practice.
  • Notice how Russell Wilson times this similar throw on play 1 of this video (to a TE, which gives them better spacing):
  • At the 13:20 mark, this quick hitch screen to Andy is one of the main reasons why the Cardinals drafted him. Watch his feet on this nifty gain.
  • Now —- at the 14:20 mark, this is a classic example of how not throwing off of Andy’s break cost the Cardinals a big gain down to the five yard line with a chance to tie the score at 28-28. Notice how wide open Andy was off his break on his perfectly run “corner route”, but Kyler waited too long and by the time he threw it, the Seahawks’ FS was able to make the play on the ball near the goal line (with some questionable PI contact on Andy).
  • The “corner route” is made to order for Andy Isabella with his speed, as long as the ball comes out on time as it did here with Kyler to Andy in 2019:

Kyler Murray and Andy Isabella —- Neil Lomax and Roy Green

When you watch this video imagine Kyler Murray and Andy Isabella running these type of timing plays (heck, if Neil Lomax could run bootlegs and waggles, imagine what Kyler can do —- which is particularly advantageous to buy time and to throwing to a blazing fast WR)

At the 1:00 mark, with a 4.31 WR like Andy Isabella, the deep pass should be thrown as quickly and well as Neil Lomax throws this 63 yard TD pass to Mel Gray.

The way Chad Kanoff got the ball out in a hurry and with some air under it here:

Like Kyler almost does on the 1st play (deep go route to Andy) —- as you can see, Andy has to slow down to catch the ball, whereas, if the ball is thrown a tad quicker, this is a TD.

This highlight tape is evidence of some good timing between the QB and the speedy WR.

While Andy Isabella has Roy Green’s blazing speed, he also had the kind of elusiveness that made Pat Tilley so effective.

Isabella Myths:

  • Isabella has terrible hands. Fact: 30 catches on 48 targets in 2 years, 2 drops (both in 2020, the first was on a quick slant that came out hot and grazed the ends of Andy’s fingertips, and the second came on a hook pass that was thrown close to Andy’s shoestrings).

When a deep pass is under-thrown and the WR has to slow down, with the CB in pursuit, if the WR fights back through the CB for the ball, it’s an offensive PI.

There were a couple of deep passes to Andy Isabella this past season that were way too wide of his “go route.” To claim he can’t track the ball is not fair.

Yes, he made one bad mistake versus the Patriots...but how many WRs (even some of the best) have made the mistake of trying to circle around a tackle in order to create RAC yards? Andy was a victim there of trying to do too much. It would be very surprising if he ever did that again. particularly in that type of 3rd down situation.

Conclusion:

Some fans are also claiming that Andy Isabella “fell out of favor” with the coaches and that KeeSean Johnson beat him out at the end of the season. Well, if you recall, it was the reverse last year, with KeeSean getting the early play and Andy getting it later on.

The truth very likely is, the coaches were trying to give both Andy and KeeSean some meaningful snaps, but with playing as much 11 and 12 personnel as they were on offense, and with DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk ahead of them, neither Andy nor KeeSean was going to get full time reps, or anything close to it.

This is what often happens when an offense switches from 10 personnel to 11 and 12. One or two WRs are the odd men out.

I believe the coaches are still very high on both Andy and KeeSean. The question this year is whether one of them will surpass Christian Kirk on the depth chart, especially now that A.J. Green will be opposite DeAndre Hopkins and the slot WR spot is now wide open.

The two quickest separators the Cardinals have out of the slot are Andy Isabella and Chase Edmonds. I believe that both Andy and Chase could shine in the slot this year, unless the Cardinals draft one of the top slot WRs in this draft class like Ladarius Toney (Florida), Rondale Moore (Purdue), Elijah Moore (Mississippi) , D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan), Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC) or Tutu Atwell (Louisville).

Andy Isabella is a tough kid. Imo, he passes the TillmanTest with flying colors. Thus, as they say, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Like the Arizona road runner...beep—beep.