The Arizona Cardinals nailed the 2019 NFL draft with three shrewd wide receiver selections to bolster the depth chart behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. Having landed two trendy names in Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler, is it possible that pick 174, KeeSean Johnson, will have the best rookie campaign?
A blistering deep threat with a 4.31 forty and impressive production,1Isabella became an instant golden boy when the Cardinals selected him in the second round. Many felt Butler was the sexiest prospect in the class before his slide out of Day 2. While his devy owners groaned, they continued to be smitten with the combination of freakish athleticism and big-play ability.
The Cardinals love what they have in Isabella, and Butler has already created a number of highlight reel plays in camp. Despite that, the best player in the early going has been the least heralded.
“So far, early on, KeeSean Johnson has looked fantastic,” said general manager Steve Keim on NFL Network. “He’s a guy that I think could break out as a rookie. He’s a real natural route runner. To me, one of the best natural route runners in the draft, and to be able to get him later in the draft on Day 3 was a good get.”
Keim has struggled badly in his recent tenure and has plenty of incentive to pump up his draft selections, but Keim’s comments only add to a growing drumbeat of enthusiasm for the sixth-round pick. The Arizona Star has noticed his rapport with Kyler Murray.
In what seems to be becoming a trend, Murray has found some great synergy with [the] fellow rookie, particularly on underneath, crossing routes. “He’s picked up the system really really quickly,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He’s a smooth route runner; we knew that coming out. We knew he was one of the top two pure route runners in the draft and it shows. I mean, he can get in and out of breaks. Great hands, competitive catches as you’ve seen throughout the first couple of days.”
How seriously should we take these early camp puff pieces? Perhaps a little more than it might seem, and that’s true despite such a daunting depth chart. Johnson was one of Ryan Bobbitt’s Returning Dominators already two years ago, and the Fresno State star didn’t disappoint in the interim. In fact, there’s a little more Cooper Kupp and Kenny Golladay to his profile than you might realize.
Why Johnson Could Emerge as the Cardinals’ Cooper Kupp, Even As Kirk and Isabella Contribute
If you’re the Arizona Cardinals and are using the spread theory to maximize your chances at hitting on a wide receiver or two, you can improve those chances by selecting players who are actually good. Many NFL teams don’t learn this lesson, but the Cardinals impressed by choosing quality across the board.
We can peruse their raw and advanced stats in the Box Score Scout.
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Isabella and Butler both posted combined market shares well above 40% for their final seasons. Those Dominator Ratings put them in rarified air. When you consider their athletic profiles, they both look undervalued even at rookie ADPs above those implied by their reality draft positions.
Johnson’s 2018 numbers aren’t quite so gaudy, but while the other two relied on monster final seasons, his consistency stands out.
Johnson crested a 30% yardage share in each of his last three campaigns, and his TD numbers were even more impressive.
I’m high enough on Butler and Isabella that I own at least one of them in almost every dynasty league. In May, I explained why Isabella Is One of the Best Rookie Values in Recent Memory. And yet I still love Johnson’s potential. In fact, the only major red flag for Johnson is also the only concern I have for Isabella – four-year college players end up looking better against their younger peers than they really are.
Fortunately, production translates, and the more productive a player is, the more likely his game will overcome other red flags. Kupp and Golladay are examples.3 Kupp posted a Domintor Rating above 30% in all four seasons. Golladay equalled K. Johnson’s three-season stretch, with a final season that rivaled Corey Davis.
Why A Little Skepticism Is Still Warranted
You probably don’t need much of a warning about a sixth-round pick on a crowded depth chart, but I should fulfill that part of the bargain after mentioning him alongside Kupp and Golladay. While Golladay’s comps included players like Kenny Britt, Alshon Jeffery, and Sidney Rice, the same can’t be said for Johnson.
The rookie results for wide receivers selected after pick 100 are very poor. Of course, most of them aren’t the caliber of Johnson, but even comparable players like Tajae Sharpe and Rashard Higgins usually experience plenty of bumps on the way to relevance, if they get there at all.
How to Play It
Stashing guys who never make an NFL roster is the best part of any deep dynasty format. Those Johnson stashes are already starting to pay off. This Cardinals offense is going to put up points in the passing game. Although the target shares may not be concentrated enough to result in big individual totals this season, make sure you’ve got exposure across the entire depth chart. When you’re balancing shares of Kirk, Isabella, and Butler, don’t forget to include Johnson as well. He’s still a Watch List player for redraft, but he’s someone you want to track during the preseason.
Image Credit: Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Andy Isabella.
- Isabella earned the top score among 2019 WR prospects in Travis May’s Adjusted Production Index. (back)
- Which is difficult. I own MVS in every dynasty league and the breakout potential is mouthwatering. But his ADP is getting, ahem, aggressive. (back)
- In retrospect, it may not seem like they entered the NFL with multiple red flags, but the former is an unathletic, small-school player, the latter a small-school product who lasted almost to pick 100. (back)