Cardinals go all-in on new-wave NFL on Day 2 of Draft
TEMPE, Ariz. — If drafting too-short quarterback Kyler Murray on Thursday was a doubling-down by the Arizona Cardinals in keeping pace with a quickly-changing NFL, they tripled, quadrupled and quintupled down on Friday.
Traditional pro-style quarterback Josh Rosen was gone, traded to the Dolphins for the 62nd pick in 2019 and Miami’s fifth-round selection next year.
Arizona used that second-round choice to draft 5-foot-9 UMass slot receiver Andy Isabella. That was two picks before workout monster D.K. Metcalf, the 6-foot-3, 4.33 40-yard dasher, came off the board.
The Cardinals led off Day 2 of the draft by taking cornerback Byron Murphy, presumably expecting to go with DB-heavy packages in this spreading out and speeding up pro game.
The moves said a bit about the general changes in NFL philosophy — and Arizona’s focus in drafting smart, hungry football players over winners of the genetic lottery who might not optimize their talent. Fit mattered less, as evidenced by the Cardinals leaving positions of need like offensive line unaddressed.
For instance, Arizona already has two presumed starting cornerbacks in Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford.
“He’s going to be in the rotation somewhere,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Murphy. “He’s that type of playmaker.”
At quarterback, Rosen was the guy just a few months back.
The team certainly needs receiver help, but it coming in a 188-pound package when this was on the table was notable.
Isabella has the traditional statistics.
A speedy player himself — Isabella recorded a 4.31 40-yard dash at the combine — he led the NCAA with 1,698 receiving yards and, according to Pro Football Focus, had the best grade as a deep threat. But in Kingsbury’s spread offense, Isabella said the Cardinals spoke to him with the expectation he will come out of the slot, not unlike renowned New England Patriots wideout Julian Edelman.
“That’s a cool comparison,” Isabella said. “He’s probably going to be a Hall of Famer.”
The Cardinals, however, left the door open for Isabella to play in an array of areas. Keim mentioned his ability to take the top off opposing defenses, then make the obvious comparison.
“It’s funny because when I first watched him, I walked down to Kliff’s office, and if there’s any school that has great white slot receivers, it’s Texas Tech,” he said. “And I said, ‘I went back in the scouting system and I tried to look up all your buddies, whether it was (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola and all those guys, they have tremendous quickness but all those guys ran in the 4.6s.
“This guy ran 4.3 and has that type of quickness.”
Isabella averaged 4.15 yards of production per route run, leading college football, per PFF.
Even with their first pick in the third round, Boston College defensive end Zach Allen, there were signs of new NFL thinking afoot.
At 6-foot-4 and 281 pounds, he’s small for an end but expects to play with hand in the dirt as a 5-technique. While Allen had 6.5 sacks and graded excellent against the run, he stood out for his eyes-up technique that led to batting down seven passes as a senior last year.
“In college, I played a lot of positions … whatever they need me to play, gain weight, lose weight, special teams, sell popcorn, I’m willing to do it,” Allen said.
Like Isabella and Murphy, Allen represents Arizona going smaller and smarter.
And the 65th overall pick, like the rest of Arizona’s draft class so far, measures up well in terms of analytical value. Keim said Arizona got four prospects in the top 35 of their draft board in the first three rounds and 102 picks.
“This guy plays like his hair’s on fire,” the GM said of Allen. “He’s relentless, he does different things from a pass-rusher standpoint that a lot of defensive ends and five techniques don’t do. So he’s a guy that not only brings the character that we’re looking for, but he brings the toughness and intensity that we’re looking for.”