Every year, the NFL draft features a handful of undersized prospects who make an immediate impact at the next level, regardless of draft slot or the logo on their college helmet.
One such member of this year’s class is Umass wide receiver Andy Isabella, a Biletnikoff runner up who’s starting to capture the attention of scouts around the league.
An instinctive receiver with a knack for finding the end zone, Isabella scored 30 touchdowns in three years as a starter. His best performance this year came against Georgia when he posted 219 yards on fifteen receptions and 2 touchdowns.
Isabella recently spoke exclusively with MCM about his recent success, his favorite routes to run, the emphasis being placed on slot receivers around the league, and what fans can expect from him in the future.
JM: You graduated a few weeks ago. Congratulations on that.
AI: Thank you. I had my last exam a few Fridays ago. I’ve been back in Cleveland since then.
JM: For those who may not be too familiar with your game, how do you describe your skill set?
AI: I consider myself to be a pretty smart player. I know how to get open because I know what the defense is doing at all times. I just know how to find little ways to get open.
JM: 101 receptions this year that went virtually went for 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns. Do you feel like you’re getting enough attention nationally?
AI: There’s been a lot of All-American awards that have come out recently. I think I’m getting a lot of recognition as of late. I’m excited for the next chapter.
JM: Would you agree that the NFL seems to be placing more value on slot receivers with each passing season?
AI: Yeah, I’d agree with your statement. We saw Ryan Switzer get drafted in the fourth round recently. Trent Taylor was drafted in the fifth round. I definitely think the NFL is starting to appreciate guys with my sort of skill set. They respect the type of player that I am. They’ve definitely been putting more emphasis on slot receivers as of late.
JM: You mentioned being a smart player and knowing how to get open. Do you have a favorite route to run?
AI: I’d have to say anything with a double move. I like baiting the corner or baiting a safety into thinking I’m doing one thing but doing something different altogether.
Andy Isabella, our All-American at WR, finds himself on the right side of the history books after this season. His 4.16 yards per route run are the fifth-highest we've every recorded in a single season, joining an impressive list.https://t.co/jioP78VqJ3 pic.twitter.com/KE4hXT86xD— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 4, 2018
JM: You understand what the defense is doing. What do you credit that to?
AI: I would have to give credit to my coaching staff. They do a great job preparing me throughout the week for what our opponent likes to do. We spend a lot time looking at that and making sure we understand how the defense likes to operate. We study their tendencies. Before we snap the ball, I’m paying attention to how the defense is lined up and that usually gives me a pretty good idea of what they’re doing pre-snap. We spend time practicing that. It’s all about going out there and understanding what you practiced.
JM: Which receivers did you enjoy watching growing up? Do you model your game after any of them in particular?
AI: I’ve always enjoyed watching Antonio Brown. I think a lot of guys my size would say Antonio Brown. He’s not a big receiver but he’s incredibly intelligent out there. He runs crafty routes and finds little ways to get open.
JM: Going back to your touchdown totals, 13 this season and 30 overall in your three seasons as a starter. What is it about your game that allows you to find the end zone so often?
AI: I would have to point to my big plays. I’ve made a habit out of creating explosive plays. A lot of my touchdowns have come off big plays. My coaches give me an opportunity to run those plays.
JM: You absolutely shredded Georgia this year for 219 yards and two touchdowns. How important do you think that performance may be for your draft stock?
AI: That could be pretty big for me. We didn’t really play any big time opponents this year. We played Boston College early in the season but that got outta hand pretty quickly. I had a good game against them though. I think the Georgia game was somewhat of a final statement game for me as far as my draft stock goes. Hopefully teams will take a look at that tape and see that I could play at that level.
What a day for UMass WR Andy Isabella - 15/219/2 today against Georgia, and 102/1698/13 on the season. If he tests well, he’s going to start climbing draft boards.— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) November 18, 2018
JM: Were you a little disappointed to not win the Biletnikoff?
AI: I was happy to be nominated. I didn’t expect to be nominated to be honest. I think a lot of people would have been pissed off if a kid from UMASS won (laughs). I think people would have been like UMASS? What the heck is that? Sure, I was a little upset to not win. You always want to win. It’s just an award though. It doesn’t reflect how I played. It’s not like anyone is gonna go out there and play the game for me. It really wasn’t that important to me.
Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award over Tylan Wallace and Andy Isabella. Here are their 2018 season stats.— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) December 7, 2018
Wallace: 79 rec, 1,408 rec yds, 17.8 ypc, 11 rec TDs
Isabella: 102 rec, 1,698 rec yds, 16.6 ypc, 13 rec TDs
Jeudy: 59 rec, 1,103 rec yds, 18.7 ypc, 12 rec TDs
JM: Who would you say is the best defensive back you’ve ever gone up against?
AI: I would have to say Anthony Chesley from Coastal Carolina. I played against Georgia of course but Deandre Baker didn’t really cover me a lot. He didn’t really press me like that. He’s obviously the best overall player but I didn’t really square off with him. Anthony Chesley pressed me and I thought he did a great job late in the game once he started following me around.
JM: Is there an NFL defensive back you look forward to squaring off with one day?
AI: I don’t wanna say any names (laughs). You’re trying to get someone to have it out for me. I’m gonna pass on that one (laughs).
JM: Fair enough. What’s more satisfying for you, catching a 75-yard touchdown or chipping away slowly at a defense by making multiple catches on a long drive?
AI: Definitely the 75-yarder. Give me that explosive play. That sounds good to me. I’m always looking to make a big, explosive play.
JM: I’m gonna hit you with two stereotypes you’re gonna hear throughout the draft process. They’re unfortunately inevitable. First off, how will you respond to the undersized label?
AI: I’ve been healthy throughout my career. I’ve never missed a game. They can point to my size all they want but I’ve been extremely durable. I’ve played mostly outside the last two years so I’ve proven that I can play there.
JM: Teams will ask you about the smaller school competition as well.
AI: Yeah, I’m not gonna lie to them. It’s a totally different game when you’re going up against Georgia rather than Duquesne. I’ve played in big games and I performed well. I played against Florida, I think that was my first career start. They had about 6 guys get drafted that year on their defense. I played against Mississippi State last year. I don’t really think too much about that.
JM: What has the opportunity to represent UMASS meant to you?
AI: It’s been great. They gave me an opportunity. Not a lot of guys come out of UMASS so it’s pretty cool for me to be doing what I’m doing over here. I hope to inspire other people to attend this program and hopefully they can accomplish something.
JM: What can fans expect from Andy Isabella going forward?
AI: I’m gonna keep working hard. I’m never gonna give up.