The idea of the Chiefs trading for Andy Isabella could bolster WR for years to come.
Back before the 2019 NFL Draft, when the NFL calendar turned toward the pre-draft scouting season, a small yet quick wide receiver out of UMass began to leap up draft boards of both media analysts and front offices alike. The surge of Andy Isabella remains one of the more surprising minor plot lines to come out of that draft class, especially given how rarely he’s been used as a second round pick by the Arizona Cardinals thus far—and how buried he seems going forward.
If it seems early to say Isabella is buried, you would be right. Isabella could easily surprise this preseason after being in the league for a full season and climb the depth chart for a Cardinals team looking to make a significant leap in Kyler Murray‘s second season under center. The investment is certainly there in Isabella from the team’s end to give Isabella every chance to impress. The problem is that the team’s actions to date make it seem as if they might already view the UMass product as a mistake made.
As they say, it’s healthiest to just admit your mistakes quickly and move on.
If this is the case, a team like the Kansas City Chiefs could be in an intriguing situation to grab a player worth the opportunity cost. What happened to Isabella’s draft stock? Why would the Cardinals trade Isabella so quickly? Why is he buried? And if he’s bad enough to trade after a single season, why would the Chiefs be interested? Let’s answer all of those questions below.
What happened to Isabella’s draft stock?
In case you might have forgotten, Isabella was one of the pre-draft season’s biggest winners. There was certainly no lack of production for the Minutemen during Isabella’s four year career at UMass. He put up 32 touchdowns during his collegiate career and put up a standout senior season in 2018 when he led all receivers in yards/game (141.5). He wrapped the ’18 campaign with 102 catches for 1,698 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns—good for an All-American nod (a major draw for an independent program that went 4-8).
Isabella was invited to the Senior Bowl, drew rave reviews during practice from some analysts, and then earned himself the MVP award for the North after catching 7 passes for 73 yards and 1 touchdown. At that point, concerns about his level of competition or ability to play alongside bigger defenders were answered by his pro-level quickness and burst.
From there, Isabella only climbed further with an incredible performance at the NFL Combine:
The NFL’s official draft Twitter would time him at 4.31, tying him with Parris Campbell (eventually taken by the Indianapolis Colts) as the fastest wideout to run at the Combine.
Why would the Cardinals trade Isabella so quickly?
Given his soaring draft stock, the Arizona Cardinals decided to secure Isabella in the 2019 draft’s second round as an important new target for first overall selection Kyler Murray. The Cardinals would continue to shop all throughout the draft by also taking WRs Hakeem Butler in the fourth round and KeeSean Johnson in the sixth.
After trading Josh Rosen to the Miami Dolphins for the late second round pick used on him, Isabella was clearly envisioned as a productive weapon in space for Murray in Kliff Kingsbury‘s new offense. Together with veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and second-year pro Christian Kirk (also a second rounder), Isabella should have rounded out the primary receiving trio in Arizona—assuming he could beat the competition of fellow rookies and roster holdovers.
Instead, here is a list of players who were targeted more than Andy Isabella in 2019 (note: injuries were not an issue here):
- Larry Fitzgerald
- Christian Kirk
- Damiere Byrd
- David Johnson
- KeeSean Johnson
- Kenyan Drake
- Pharoh Cooper
- Charles Clay
- Chase Edmonds
- Maxx Williams
- Trent Sherfeld (tied)
Yep, Isabella would end the season with a mere 13 targets, tying him with the great Trent Sherfeld for 11th on the list of an Arizona Cardinals team who had just taken him within the first 60-ish prospects overall in May. That’s not good.
Clearly after a single year, it was clear to the Cardinals, for one reason or another, that Isabella was going to need a lot of work—more on this in a minute—which is why others received so many immediate targets. What about heading into his second season? Won’t the team want to give such a quick target all the potential to make an impact?
Let’s not forget the single biggest move of the offseason was the Cardinals’ ability to import a top 3 wide receiver from the Houston Texans in DeAndre Hopkins. Fitzgerald is back and Kirk will blossom in year three. Hakeem Butler will return from injury and KeeSean Johnson looked the best of all three draftees from last year already. Isabella could potentially rise to the occasion, but are the Cardinals really counting on it?
Why is he buried?
The issues began early in the year when it was clear Isabella was overwhelmed at the pro level by the same concerns that some NFL Draft analysts saw coming in advance. Check out this blistering take from Daniel Jeremiah on Isabella in the pre-draft process:
Specifically, some draft pundits were concerned about route running and catch radius. Yes, Isabella is quick. Yes, his burst and agility are tremendous. Yes, he’s very dangerous in space. But it hurts when NFL routes are ran so inefficiently and when a passer has to force the ball into the numbers in a league where passing windows are already so small.
Those concerns seem like they lodged themselves as mental issues as well. In September, Isabella was already opening up about the expectations he had coming into the NFL and how difficult it was to get over the frustrations he was having.
"“Mentally, it can beat you down and beat you down a lot,” Isabella said. “(Coaches) tell you all these things and you think you’re doing it right. It’s a hard process. You can get down about something you’re not doing right and you think ‘Oh, maybe they don’t like me.’ But you can’t think about it like that. They’re just coaching you and want you to get better. So you keep a good attitude and work hard and wait for your opportunity.”"
And if you thought that Isabella might have gotten better as the season wore on, he ended 2019 as a healthy scratch in the final two games of the season for the Cardinals. In short, a team with no postseason hopes weren’t even interested in seeing what their second-round investment could do in meaningless games at season’s end. That’s telling.
Why would the Chiefs be interested?
At this point, it’s possible to have gone from “Why would the Cardinals trade a second round pick that quick?” to “Why would the Chiefs want Isabella at all?”
But remember what we said are Isabella’s primary traits: he’s incredibly dangerous in space and can make defenders miss. For the Chiefs, these sorts of weapons are used with precision, alongside targets who will remove the shade overhead and allow a player like Isabella to move freely about the cabin.
Here’s what’s even more important. Demarcus Robinson re-signed with the team on a single-year contract. Sammy Watkins restructured his deal and will hit free agency in 2021 alongside Robinson. At that point, the Chiefs will have Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman under contract. That’s it. The Chiefs can bring back Gehrig Dieter or Byron Pringle as exclusive rights free agents if they like, but even Marcus Kemp is scheduled to hit the open market. A loaded position in 2020 is scheduled for a steep drop in 2021 after the initial starters atop the depth chart.
As a cost-controlled player on a rookie deal through the 2022 season, Isabella’s price tag is very palatable with a cap hit that never once eclipses $1.5 million. For a team with plenty of expensive veterans all over the roster, a potential big-play threat on a wallet-friendly deal is the type of player who could benefit the Chiefs.
Isabella as a second-round prospect was too high of a hurdle and he’ll likely never live up to that trait. It also looks like the Cardinals aren’t banking on Isabella rising to the surface in 2020. In the end, a team like the Chiefs would provide a better home for his skill set if the price weren’t too outrageous. A couple scouts were saying just that before the draft. Check out Kyle Crabbs from The Draft Network back in 2019:
"A diminutive, non-physical player, Isabella wins with quickness and thrives in space. His best role would be as a slot/depth option on a team that looks to space the field and isolate their athletes one on one. Passing systems like the ones in KC and SF come to mind as specific favorable fits."
Would Arizona relish the chance to receive a low-round draft asset for their second-round mistake? Wouldn’t it be worth importing a 4.27 to 4.31 burner to the long-term mix at wideout for the Chiefs? A trade for Isabella could keep the Chiefs loaded with deep threats on the cheap after the days of Watkins and Robinson on the roster are through.
Proposed deal: 5th round pick in 2022 NFL Draft for Andy Isabella.