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Could WR Andy Isabella be Buffalo Bills’ solution in the slot?

The definition of “X-factor” is: Andy Isabella

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Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Wide receiver Andy Isabella was the darling of training camp this past summer. Buffalo Bills fans were abuzz discussing the potential Isabella brought to the Bills’ offense, even as a late arrival to St. John Fisher University. There were plenty of people who believed Isabella would make the final 53-man roster, despite what everyone said was a deep and talented receiver room.

Six weeks into the 2023 NFL season, the quality of Buffalo’s receiver depth remains largely unknown. Make no mistake, Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis are WR1/WR2, respectively. Davis, however, remains a hot topic in some circles, due to the perceived shortcomings in his play. This season is a contract campaign for him, and he’s played well to this point, though there are moments where he appears to lose focus (drops, fumbles). Still, Davis as WR2 is a very good thing for Buffalo’s offense.

The bigger issue is those players behind Diggs and Davis. The lack of production out of the WR3/4/5 position is concerning, and is seems as though no pecking order has been established. Khalil Shakir is in his second year with the Bills, but he appears no further along than last season. Shakir, similar to Davis, can make the most difficult catches seem simple, while letting the easy ones slip through his hands. Free-agent receivers Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty were brought in this offseason, and the team did well in building up their potential in the offense and on special teams. Yet, like so many before them, Sherfield and Harty have been largely invisible. Harty did, to his credit, catch his first touchdown with the Bills in Week 6 against the New York Giants.

The trio of Shakir, Harty, and Sherfield have combined to make 21 receptions for 182 yards with two touchdowns. None of them have proven to be the solution at slot receiver or anywhere else. To his credit, Harty is the most involved, having caught 12 passes for 103 yards and that TD.

The time feels right to try something different, and perhaps that’s Andy Isabella. Many will argue his lack of snaps and chemistry with Allen as reasons not to promote him to the active roster. But it’s nearly impossible to argue that Shakir and Sherfield have either of those things over Isabella at this point.

Isabella’s name wasn’t new this summer to many Bills fans, who hoped One Bills Drive might select him during the 2019 NFL Draft. Looking back at the lead-up to that year’s draft, Isabella was an intriguing prospect who profiled as an X-factor playing out of the slot. Then and now, he was anything but a one-trick pony. Isabella is a precise route runner who possesses elite speed (4.31 40-yard time; high school track star), and he’s adept at creating separation and working in space. The biggest knock on Isabella then was his size, which listed him at 5’9” and 188 pounds. As a senior, Isabella led all of college football with 102 receptions for 1,698 yards with 13 TDs.

On draft weekend, Isabella wound up the Arizona Cardinals, joining his college quarterback, Kyler Murray. Things didn’t work out in AZ, and Isabella moved on to the Baltimore Ravens in-season during 2022. Injury derailed any promise he held with the Ravens, which led to his release and eventual arrival in Orchard Park, NY.

Plenty of people have pointed out that Isabella’s failure to succeed with both the Cardinals and Ravens, he’s no longer the player his prospect painted him out to be. All along, Isabella was described as a talented player who’d succeed in the right system, and we’ve seen plenty of failure with the Cardinals, and a passing game unlike most by the Ravens. It may be unwise to write Isabella off at this point, but it’s fair to consider the criticisms of his struggles at the Senior Bowl and also his pro game (routes, hands, and size).

Since the initial departure of wide receiver Cole Beasley, Buffalo’s offense has failed to adequately fill his role, which at one time was among the most important and favored by quarterback Josh Allen. The Allen-to-Beasley connection was stout, connecting 67 times in 2019, and totaling 82 completions in both 2020 and 2021. Isabella possesses similar physical traits to Beasley, but with the added element of sprinter’s speed, as well being a viable option at outside receiver.

Though many have been quick to say that Isabella’s not just a slot receiver, his role there with the Bills could be just what the offense needs. Despite what was written about him by Pro Football Focus:

Isabella’s success is rooted in his ability to stretch the field and make the big play, things that can be limited when isolated to the slot in the NFL.

At final roster cuts ahead of the Bills’ initial 53-man roster this season, Isabella was released, then signing back with Buffalo’s practice squad. Certainly it’s important to consider that Isabella was passed over for the likes of Shakir, Harty, and Sherfield, and that he balled out against backups and/or players who didn’t make an NFL roster. As a vested NFL veteran, Isabella could have signed anywhere he wanted after being let go. He chose the Bills because of the fit, and what he believed he could bring to the offense. Is it time to the Buffalo Bills give Andy Isabella that opportunity?