During the 2020 season, the Falcons experienced extreme turbulence. Dan Quinn was fired just a handful of games into the season, and Raheem Morris took over. He made several changes, but none was more important than moving Isaiah Oliver to the inside.
After moving to the slot for Dean Pees permanently, Oliver had his best stretch of games as a pro to begin 2021. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely after suffering a torn ACL. The Falcons’ defense suffered as a result, given the revolving door at the nickelback position. With an obvious need for a slot corner, Terry Fontenot elected to bring Oliver back on a one-year deal, and it might be one of the more underrated signings this offseason.
As Oliver works back to 100%, fans and media alike are wondering how the progress is going. Arthur Smith spoke on the matter Friday during the team’s open practice in Mercedes-Benz Stadium:
Arthur Smith didn’t offer a timeline on Isaiah Oliver’s return from injury but said no one has been working harder to get back.
The Falcons re-signed the cornerback this offseason.
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) June 3, 2022
It’s encouraging to see Oliver hungry to return to the field because he could be the unsung hero of the defense in 2022.
Oliver isn’t going to be named to the Pro Bowl or anything like that, but he plays the most critical position in Dean Pees’ defense and did so last year at an extremely high level before getting injured. He’s an excellent tackler with the ability to support the box, playing almost a safety-like role. Oliver’s got the length, size, willingness, and tackling ability to make a significant impact from the slot.
I said back in February of 2021 that a permanent move for Oliver to a safety-like role in the slot could prolong his career in Atlanta. The word “safety” has a negative connotation to it, but the reality is that Oliver is a nickel back through and through, which plays like both a safety and a cornerback. Slot or nickel backs are usually tasked with supporting the run and blitzing more than boundary corners due to their proximity to the ball, which is exactly where Oliver showed life in the latter half of 2020.
For the 13 weeks following Oliver’s injury, the Falcons had a revolving door at nickel, which Pees even stated himself. Richie Grant, Darren Hall, Avery Williams, and Erik Harris all took turns manning the slot, but none were as effective as Oliver. The defense as a whole suffered. Now, as Oliver rehabs from his season-ending injury, the Falcons are eager to have him back as the new-look defense takes shape. If Atlanta’s defense improves significantly this year, the obvious names the media will praise are Terrell, Carter, Jarrett, etc. However, Oliver will be the unsung hero.
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