Thu, Nov 08, 2018
By Jim Nagy
One of the best ways for NFL scouts to paint a picture for decision-makers is by comparing a college player to someone they had previously scouted that made it in the league. When it comes to UMass senior receiver Andy Isabella, who had eight catches for 303 yards and two TD in a 62-59 triple overtime win versus Liberty last Saturday, the easy thing for scouts to do will be to describe him as a “Patriots type” receiver.
And the scouts that use that comparison will not be wrong.
The seven years I spent in the Patriots scouting department provided me with unique background on the lineage of Patriots slot receivers, ranging from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman. After watching tape of Isabella this week, he has both the physical tools and the actual on-field skill-set to eventually become a similar level of NFL player as that accomplished Patriots trio.
When evaluating college slot receivers, the first place you have to start is the body type. Inside receivers get exposed to a significant amount of contact at the next level and they need to be sturdy enough to absorb and bounce off of it. Isabella was a running back in high school and he has that kind of build. He is thick in his lower half, so powering thru press-man and second-level re-routes should not be a problem for him.
The part of his game that reminds me most of Welker is his very good acceleration off the line of scrimmage. Like Welker, Isabella has that instant gear and rapid foot turnover to threaten vertically on his release, but the difference between the two is that Isabella will run significantly faster at the Combine than Welker did coming out of Texas Tech. Whereas Welker ran somewhere in the high-4.6 to low-4.7 range, we expect Isabella to possibly run a rare sub-4.30.
During the fall evaluation process, when scouts don’t have verified 40-yard dash times on players, they usually dig into old documented high school track times.
As a high school senior, Isabella won the 100-meter dash in the state of Ohio with a blistering time of 10.51. The person that finished third-place in that same race was last year’s No. 4 overall pick, Cleveland Browns rookie cornerback, Denzel Ward, with a time of 10.68. Prior to last year’s draft, Ward ran a 4.32. With those numbers as a frame of reference, projecting Isabella to run a 4.30 or faster isn’t as crazy as it may have sounded when you read it in the previous paragraph.
Fans and draftniks could see Isabella’s speed up-close during Senior Bowl practices.
This year’s safety class is not heavy at the top, but there is a cluster of intriguing late-Day 2/early-Day 3 options that NFL teams will have to sort out and stack during the pre-draft process. One player from that mix that might be starting to emerge is Rutgers senior safety Saquan Hampton, who earns our Defensive Senior of the Week honors after his 10-tackle and 2 INT performance on the road at Wisconsin. This marks the first time all season where one of our Senior of the Week honorees came from a game that a member of the Senior Bowl scouting staff was in attendance.
The first thing that will catch scouts’ attention is that Hampton has a background at cornerback, which is important in the sense that he has more experience in man coverage, even if it’s just at the high school level, than most safety prospects.
The attribute that showed up most in the game against the Badgers was his ball skills. During our tape study, we liked him the most when the ball was in the air. On both his two picks last Saturday, one when he drove on an out route and another where he undercut a corner route, Hampton looked really natural playing the ball. While we don’t have verified arm or wingspan measurements at this time, Hampton looked long to us when we saw him during pre-game and he showed his length reeling in his second INT of the day midway thru the second quarter.
The other aspect of Hampton’s game that stood out last week was his deep field instincts. Scouts determine where to project safeties, either free or strong, based on where they look most natural playing and Hampton looks most comfortable in the middle of the field. Some guys have a feel for routes and Hampton consistently put himself in the position to make plays.
One thing that will help NFL teams rank this year’s safety group will be the special teams tape from the Senior Bowl. Most three-year starters and team captains like Hampton are held out of the kicking game as seniors, but a few good reps in any of the four ST phases could elevate guys like Hampton over players that don’t play in an all-star game.
|Jim Nagy is the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl. He spent 18 years in the National Football League. In his time in the NFL, Nagy worked as an area scout in the West, Midwest, and Southeast regions, as well as in a national scouting capacity for four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a part of six Super Bowl teams and four Lombardi Trophy winning clubs (Green Bay Packers XXXI, New England Patriots XXXVIII and XXXIX and Seattle Seahawks XLVIII).|