The moment he got off the phone with second-round pick Andy Isabella during draft weekend, Kliff Kingsbury clapped five times and let out an excited scream.
The Cardinals coach is known for his offensive ingenuity, but even the brightest football minds will be handcuffed without talent. General Manager Steve Keim attempted to rectify that last week, consistently selecting playmakers to ease Kingsbury’s transition.
Isabella was chosen in the second round, followed by wideout Hakeem Butler in the fourth, wide receiver KeeSean Johnson in the sixth and tight end Caleb Wilson in the seventh. Keim was adamant that he wouldn’t reach for wide receivers if a superior player at another position was available, and felt like he got the best of both worlds in the draft.
“It felt right the way it fell,” Keim said, “and to be able to put some of those young receivers in there with guys like Larry (Fitzgerald) and Christian (Kirk) I think will really help us in the future.”
The Cardinals’ offense last season was the worst in the NFL in several different categories. The hire of Kingsbury proved there was a clear focus on fixing it, and there is hope that mixing the newcomers with some holdovers will produce quick results.
Kirk, Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson are the main skill weapons back from 2018. Isabella is a speed demon who can be dangerous in a pair of ways: both on jet sweeps and bubble screens near the line of scrimmage and on vertical routes over the top of the defense.
“You always want that,” Kingsbury said of a player who can stretch teams vertically. “Christian last year, playing outside, had that ability at times. I think Isabella running a 4.31 (40-yard dash), he’s a guy you’re going to have to watch every time he steps on the field for that deep threat.”
Isabella won’t necessarily even need to have the ball in his hand to impact defenses. According to Sports Info Solutions, teams averaged 0.8 more yards per play when doing jet motion in 2018 compared to a non-play-action snap.
Between Isabella motioning across the line of scrimmage and the threat of quarterback Kyler Murray’s legs, there could be multiple wrinkles for defenses to account for in 2019.
While some more traditional offenses would cap the number of high-usage receivers at three, there figures to be ample playing time for others with Kingsbury.
Butler had 60 catches for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns last season for Iowa State. Between his 6-foot-5 frame and 4.48 speed, he is one of the more physically enticing rookie receivers coming out of the draft, although drops were a problem in college.
Johnson had a similarly-productive career at Fresno State, and while not quite the physical specimen of Butler, he was lauded by Keim after the draft for his route-running and soft hands.
Even Wilson could find a role despite being the final choice of the draft, as he caught 60 passes for 965 yards and four touchdowns last year at UCLA. The competition for playing time could be fierce, and the hope is that it brings the best out of everyone involved.
“It’s only going to make us better as a team,” Johnson said. “That’s all it’s going to do. We have a lot of great weapons coming in that can help the offense in different ways.”
Images from the Cardinals returning to the field for the second week of Phase two workouts in 2019