2020 Summer Sleeper: Arizona Cardinals

Bruce Matson

In our annual 32-part Summer Sleeper series, DLF scribes identify a lightly-touted player on each NFL roster who may be worthy of your consideration. Our subjects all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but each merits a bit of in-depth discussion here in the Premium Content section.

To help everybody along, we are going to be categorizing our sleepers under one of three headings:

Super Deep Sleepers – Players who aren’t roster-worthy in 12-team leagues, but are still worth keeping an eye on.
Deep Sleepers – An end of the roster player who is more often than not on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues.
Sleeper – A likely rostered player who makes for a good trade target. Their startup ADP puts them out of the top-175 or so.

Because we aren’t going to give you the likes of mainstream sleepers, most of these players will undoubtedly fizzle. All we are asking is for you to keep an open mind and perhaps be willing to make room for one of these players on your bench. You never know when the next Adam Thielen is going to spring up. Feel free to add your own thoughts about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own in the comments below.

Kliff Kingsbury installed his air-raid mythology to the Arizona Cardinals offense last year, increasing the passing volume and the tempo of the offense. He also hand-picked Kyler Murray to be his franchise quarterback. He then traded for Kenyan Drake, a pass-catching running back who fits Kingbury’s offensive strategy, last offseason.

In a short period of time, we’ve seen Kingsbury slowly build this team into his vision of the offense that he ran during his Texas Tech days. He managed to steal DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans while also trimming a little fat by being able to deal away David Johnson.

All eyes are on Kingsbury and his leadership. The team is at a crossroads. They are either going to take a step forward and become one of the top teams in the NFL or Kingsbury busts, causing a new coaching regime to enter the office and tear the house down.

Andy Isabella, WR

Category: Deep Sleeper

The Cardinals selected three wide receivers in the 2019 draft. Isabella was the first pass-catcher selected in the second round. They doubled and triple-downed at the wide receiver position by drafting Hakeem Butler in the fourth round and KeeSean Johnson in the sixth round. Improving and adding depth to the wide receiver depth chart was a key priority to Kingsbury. He made sure to put a few chips down to make the renovations easier to overhaul the offense.

isabella ms by age

UMass isn’t considered a powerhouse when it comes to delivering talent to the NFL, let alone talent for fantasy football. Isabella was able to overcome his situation and become a star at the small school. He broke out during his age-19 season with a 25.90 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. As the years went on, Isabella infused more dominance over the rest of the offense until his senior season where he commanded an impeccable 47.47 percent share of the passing offense. By posting a 4.15 yards per route run, Isabella was easily one of the most efficient wide receivers in college football.

From a counting stat perspective, Isabella was a mini monster, exceeding 1,000-yards receiving and double-digit touchdowns during his final two seasons at UMass. During his senior season, he managed to post 219 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Georgia and 158 yards and one touchdown against Mississippi State the year prior. 41.52 percent of his production during his senior came on plays that went for 20 yards or more.

Though he played for a small school and didn’t consistently play against top-shelf competition, Isabella made the most of his situation. When given the opportunity, he performed, catching 36 passes for 492 yards and three touchdowns in five games against SEC competition. Not only did he boost his stat total at UMass but he did it in style by blazing past defenses with his speed and eating chunks of yards after the catch.

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Courtesy of DLF’s Player Combine Performance App.

Speed is where Isabella can leverage himself into the starting rotation for the Cardinals. At the combine, he measured in with a 4.31-second 40-yard dash, equating to a 70th-percentile size-adjusted speed score. He has the short-area quickness to play in the slot and the long-speed to stretch the field, making him a multifaceted player in the passing game.

His high-level college production combined with his athleticism made him a sought-after draft prospect out of UMass. The only major red flag on his profile was the lack of competition on his college resume.

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Courtesy of DLF’s ADP Over Time APP

We saw his rookie ADP jump to almost WR50 right before his rookie season. However, after a year with limited action where he caught just nine passes for 189 yards and one touchdown, it was easy for the consensus to fade him to bargain-basement price levels this off-season.

The addition of DeAndre Hopkins only hurts his value. Trading for one of the top wide receivers in the league will only prevent targets to go his way, not provide a stimulus package of workload. This caused the public to fade Isabella even more. Now he’s basically free in startup drafts.

It’s hard to imagine a second-round pick who is on an up-and-coming offense has fallen so far in the ranks. Per Pro Football Outsiders, the Cardinals ranked fourth in the league with a 28.35-second play rate in neutral game script last season. They also dramatically increase the tempo to a 24.01-second play rate when trailing seven or more points. The added play volume increases opportunities throughout the offense and allows ancillary wide receivers like Isabella to see added chances throughout the game.

Even with a rookie quarterback who can easily scramble to gain extra yards with ease, the Cardinals still ranked 12th in the league with a 60.40 percent passing rate. As a team, they averaged 6.3 yards per pass which is very advantageous for Isabella who is projected to be a dangerous slot receiver after the catch.

We are at the point where he’s a deep sleeper and not a risky rookie who commands high draft capital. This time last year, he was being drafted in the early second-round and sometimes in the first round of rookie drafts. Now you can get him as a throw-in to a bigger piece in a trade. The price is so low enough to make him almost a risk-free asset. Considering he has mid-level WR2 upside, Isabella is a steal at his current price tag.

Considering his athleticism and the type of offense that he plays in, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that he has a second-year break out this year. If an injury occurs to Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, or even Christian Kirk, we could Isabella see more playing time.

To counter that statement, we didn’t see an uptick in his snap share when Kirk was out of the lineup last year and Hopkins wasn’t even on the team. He’s a deep sleeper for a reason. The odds of him hitting isn’t likely. More often then not, he will be barricaded by the rest of the wide receivers on the roster.

The upside is there along with the price tag. He’s worth a stash at the end of your bench just in case. The Cardinals may have one of the most explosive offenses in the league and you want as many pieces of this offense as possible. Isabella is a cheap obtainable add for just about every dynasty team.

bruce matson
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