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Kliff Kingsbury Expresses Confidence In Second-Year Receivers

Progress expected from Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson and Hakeem Butler

Former second-round pick Andy Isabella hopes to find a bigger role in 2020.
Former second-round pick Andy Isabella hopes to find a bigger role in 2020.

The wide receiver class was historically deep heading into last month's NFL draft, so from CeeDee Lamb on down, the Cardinals had options.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury was intrigued by many of the prospects, but in the end, the Cardinals went elsewhere for each of their six selections.

"We liked a lot of the receivers in the draft," Kingsbury said, "but we also like the guys we took last year."

The rookie seasons for former second-round pick Andy Isabella, fourth-rounder Hakeem Butler and sixth-rounder KeeSean Johnson were not overly positive, but through words and actions, the Cardinals continue to express belief in their abilities.

While DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald are still going to command the vast majority of targets in 2020, a draft pick addition could have been an indictment on the future expectations for the second-year trio.

Instead, the window for impact remains open, especially considering Kingsbury's willingness to play four wide receivers at the same time if they prove worthy.

"Hopefully things go as planned," Isabella said. "We get a shot on the field, we start making plays and things start to take off."

Isabella finished 2019 with nine catches for 189 yards and a memorable 88-yard touchdown against the 49ers. Johnson had 21 catches for 187 yards and a score last year, while Butler missed the season with a broken finger.

Despite the inconsistency, Kingsbury saw enough positives to remain confident.

"We like how they progressed," Kingsbury said. "It was tough getting on the field because we had some guys playing really well, but we're excited to see how they take that next step in Year 2."

Isabella wishes he could be on the field in front of the coaches this offseason, but is instead working out in Ohio due to the COVID-19 restrictions. He plans to return to Arizona in June.

"I'm fortunate enough to have a quarterback and a place to train, so I've been able to get all my stuff in," Isabella said. "I'm definitely getting a lot better, and I'm excited to get back to Arizona here soon."

Johnson had the quickest start of the rookies, but tailed off toward the end of the season and will need to re-establish himself. Butler was inconsistent in training camp before the injury, but has an intriguing skillset which could be helpful if it translates to the NFL level.

"Tons of ability," Kingsbury said. "He’s healthy. He’s been working hard this offseason. He knows what we expect of him, and what we think he can be. I'm really excited when we can finally get him back on the field."

Isabella enjoyed being around Fitzgerald a season ago, and is now ready to soak in advice from Hopkins, whom he's communicated with through Zoom.

"They've established themselves in the league and done big things, so you can learn a lot from them," Isabella said.

Hopkins and Fitzgerald are the entrenched NFL stars that Isabella, Johnson and Butler would love to one day become. They didn't flash that potential as rookies, but because the Cardinals bypassed wideouts in the draft, the door remains cracked for a 2020 surge.

"Every year you've got to push forward," Isabella said. "This league always changes, and you've always got to be on your toes and ready to change with it. You need to progress."

Images of the players who caught passes for the Cardinals this season