NFL 2020 Recap: Former Minutemen

See how the quartet of UMass football alumni fared this year

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By Colin McCarthy, Collegian Staff

With the 2020-21 NFL season in the books, it’s time again to take one last look at how the former Massachusetts football alumni fared this year.

The quartet of Andy Isabella, Elijah Wilkinson,Tajae Sharpe and Isaiah Rodgers each had varied levels of success in 2020. Some faced adversity, while others look set to become bona fide stars in the future. 

Isaiah Rodgers

Rodgers is only a rookie, and the newest former Minuteman to suit up for NFL action. But in 2020 he played a vital role to the Indianapolis Colts in their postseason run.

Rodgers earned a spot in the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team as a kick returner. He finished the season with 692 return yards, including a 101-yard return for a touchdown. He also showcased his incredible athleticism on a 34-yard return against the Bills.

Outside of his impressive showing on special teams, Rodgers saw time on defense as well, playing cornerback mostly in dime sets for the Colts. He saved his best performance on that side of the ball for the playoffs, where he nearly intercepted passes on back-to-back plays.

The first thrown at him was an interception but was negated by an offsides penalty. Then, Josh Allen threw his way again and Rodgers nearly had the pick but could not possess the ball through the ground. Still, he made a great play to prevent a touchdown.

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 Indianapolis has plenty of depth at corner already with Xavier Rhodes, Kenny Moore II and Rock Ya-Sin. With Rhodes set to become a free agent, Rodgers could be in line for more playing time. But, if Rhodes re-signs and nothing changes within that group, expect Rodgers to take on a similar role next year as a return specialist and extra DB in nickel and dime packages.

Tajae Sharpe

Sharpe did not have the season that people might have expected him to have. After a few consistent seasons with Tennessee, Sharpe signed with the Vikings this offseason, and looked poised to assume the third or fourth wide receiver roles there.

However, after finding some action in the first two weeks of the season, Sharpe did not see the field again until week 12. By then it was clear that he would not be utilized much.

Minnesota is a run-first offense led by Dalvin Cook, and when they do want to go down the field, they have Adam Thielen and sensational rookie Justin Jefferson, so the former Minuteman wasn’t needed and was released in December.

A week after his release, Sharpe signed with the Chiefs practice squad, and although being part of a winning culture in Kansas City was probably a good experience, he was never saw game action for them.

The Chiefs boast one of the best passing attacks in the NFL, and between Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson, they have plenty of talent at the receiver spot.

After his first season without a reception since entering the league, Sharpe will likely be on the move again, in search of a team that can give him a role similar to the one he had with the Titans.

Elijah Wilkinson

 Elijah Wilkinson also had a tough 2020 season, but in a much different way than Sharpe. The starting tackle for the Broncos spent six weeks on injury reserve in the middle of the season.

Before Wilkinson’s injury, he played in 100 percent of Denver’s offensive snaps, and after being slowly worked back into the lineup, he finished up the last four games back in his starting role.

Despite the injury, Wilkinson is still poised for a starting role in 2021. The Broncos have signed him to one-year deals three seasons in a row, and his latest contract was worth over $3 million.

His injury is the only thing that might hold Wilkinson back from signing a multi-year deal with a team this offseason, but all signs point to him being on an active roster, and likely as a starting offensive lineman next year.

Andy Isabella

Outside of Rodgers’ outstanding season, Isabella might have the most upside of all the former Minutemen in the NFL. He has been trending in the right direction in two seasons, and may be poised for a breakout in 2021.

In 2019, Isabella was purely a deep threat wide receiver. The Cardinals relied on him to take the top off opposing defenses and make splash plays down the field.

This year however, he was used in more of a slot wide receiver role. Being the fourth receiver on the roster, Isabella’s 224 yards and two touchdowns were modest. What’s promising though are the stats around those yards.

From year one to year two, Isabella more than doubled his targets and catches. And he has half the yards per catch this season that he did last. Normally that would be considered a bad thing, but for Isabella it means Arizona is no longer just targeting him deep. He has emerged as a solid slot receiver in four wide receiver sets.

And there could be an even bigger opportunity ahead of Isabella in 2021. The future of longtime Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald is uncertain, and if the future hall of famer decides to retire, it will open the door for the young wideout.

This offseason will be a crucial one for Isabella. He possesses top level speed and explosiveness, and if he can continue to improve his footwork and catching, he will be a true threat in the slot lined up beside DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.