The last 2020 breakout candidate I will talk about is perhaps the most important one. The Falcons cornerback group is severely lacking leadership, but to this point, they haven’t added any veterans to the roster. Regardless, they will be heavily leaning on this man to turn his career around and become the player they thought they were getting when they drafted him in 2018. If you missed any of the previous breakout candidates I have talked about, fear not. I will be posting the entire list of 2020 breakout candidates later this week, so keep your eyes peeled.
When the Falcons were able to snag Isaiah Oliver late in the second round of the 2018 draft, I don’t think there was a draft expert who gave it a grade below a B-. Many thought he was one of the most talented corners in the entire draft and should have been a first-rounder because of his length and playmaking skills. Unfortunately, that only means so much, and to this point, Oliver hasn’t lived up to his second round status.
As a rookie, Oliver saw action in 14 games, including two starts, but he didn’t play as much as one would have thought, considering how porous the Falcons cornerback play was in 2018. The next year, we found out why. He simply wasn’t ready.
Oliver became the full-time starter last season across from Desmond Trufant, and it didn’t take long for teams to start targeting him early and often, reaping the rewards. In the first eight games, he allowed a passer rating of 119.4, surrendering 30 catches on 45 targets for 427 yards and three scores, while also committing five penalties, via the Atlanta Falcons team website. Oliver was a primary culprit for why the team started 1-7 and Dan Quinn was relieved of his defensive play-calling duties, but once Raheem Morris took over the secondary, things began to change for the better, earning him the nickname “The Blanket.”
Here’s what new secondary coach, Joe Whitt Jr, had to say about Oliver’s development in the second half of last season.
“I thought over the last eight games he did a really good job of connecting his feet and his hands in his press game,” Whitt said. “He stayed more square. That gave him the ability once they got up the field to connect at the top of the routes.”
Oliver still committed three penalties in the final eight games. However, his performance, as well as the defense’s as a whole, was a night and day difference.
The attributes have always been there for him to become a #1 corner. Now, the Falcons are hoping they found something under new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. Atlanta will be relying on Oliver even more after cutting Desmond Trufant, and he’s now the veteran of the group — with only three years of experience. If the final eight games last year were a foreshadowing of the rest of his career, the Falcons should be just fine. However, if it was more of a flash in the pan, they will have severe problems — ones they probably won’t be able to overcome.