INDIANAPOLIS – Andy Isabella is an unassuming 5 feet, 9 inches and 188 pounds, but Randy Moss has taken notice. The NFL world, including the Vikings, have too as he sprints up draft boards with standout performances at the Senior Bowl and last week during the scouting combine.
Isabella met Moss through his agent, Mike Swenson, who set up workouts with Moss, Isabella and another prospect at the Applied Science and Performance Institute in Tampa Bay. They trained together three times a week leading into the combine, a process that could lead to Isabella being selected in the second or third round of April’s NFL Draft.
The first session left Isabella gassed, needing a half hour before “dragging myself to my car.”
“He’s really tough on us about working, but I like that style of coaching,” Isabella said. “He would have us running like eight 40s and then five routes and then run eight more 40s full speed.”
Motivation comes easy to Isabella, the former UMass receiver who needed an Ohio state title in the 100 – beating Cleveland cornerback Denzel Ward in the process – to kickstart a recruitment of just two scholarship offers out of high school.
Adding Moss, the Vikings’ Hall of Famer, as a drill instructor can’t hurt.
“It’s still pretty intimidating,” Isabella said. “I love working with him. He’s a great guy, but he’s definitely intimidating.”
Little seemed to faze Isabella as he was surrounded in Indianapolis by reporters, likely tossing far easier questions than the ones received in meetings with the Vikings, Patriots, Packers, Browns and 49ers, among others reported this offseason. Pressure grew as he was an anticipated top performer in the 40-yard dash. Isabella passed that test in 4.31 seconds (again beating high school-rival Ward’s 4.32 time last year) to set the fastest time for receivers.
He even gets a chuckle out of Moss’ jabs comparing his size to Wes Welker.
“He did mention it probably the second practice we were there,” Isabella said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I used to work out with Wes and you’re just as small as him.’ Randy’s like 6-5, so he’s towering over me. It’s funny.”
But is that where comparisons end?
“Yeah,” Isabella said, “just at the size.”
Because Isabella figures he can be more than an NFL slot receiver. His versatility is a big reason why he might be considered within a team’s top two or three picks come April. Isabella led college football with 1,698 yards last fall, doing much of his damage as an outside vertical threat akin to how the Rams’ Brandin Cooks (5-foot-10) can burn defenders.
Isabella said he also likes Golden Tate’s game as a quick third-down converter. NFL Media draft guru Lance Zierlein compares Isabella to Phillip Dorsett, the Colts’ former first-round pick. His top-end athleticism was confirmed at the combine, finishing sixth among receivers in key agility tests between the three-cone drill (6.95 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.15).
“Isabella could step into a high-volume slot role as a menace on option routes,” Zierlein writes in Isabella’s NFL.com draft profile. “While the step up in competition will be pronounced, he has the traits to transition nicely to the NFL.”
Perhaps Isabella’s biggest on-field challenge playing in the NFL will be separating from defensive backs, both downfield and at the line of scrimmage. He could be overpowered because of his smaller stature.
So Moss, according to Isabella, has focused part of their training on “releases from the slot,” or how to begin his route from inside the formation without getting jammed by a cornerback or linebacker.
“You have to be tough to play outside, especially being small,” Isabella said. “I think I do a good job of playing off defenders and using my speed to get open.”
There was a Vikings receiver pretty good at that, too.
“It’s gotten more comfortable, but he’s still tough on us,” Isabella said. “He’s still out there yelling at us. I know if I drop a ball, he’s getting on us for sure.”