The Falcons are searching for a nickel back after Isaiah Oliver suffered a season-ending knee injury. It is a shame because he was playing some of the best football of his career since making the permanent switch from the boundary to the slot. Oliver has long been the verbal punching bag for Falcons fans, but this year has been different. For much of his career in Atlanta, he struggled on the boundary. He would flash his length and physicality at times then get burned other times; there was no consistency in his game until he made the move inside.
After Dan Quinn was fired, Raheem Morris and Jeff Ulbrich decided to kick Oliver into the slot, where he looked competent. His skill set is much better suited to play the nickel role than on the boundary; his ability to blitz and support the run makes him an ideal slot corner.
The new coaching staff recognized Oliver’s improvements once he made the switch and kept him there. Under Dean Pees, he was playing more consistently than he ever had before, so it is unfortunate this injury occurred. Still, it is the NFL, and it has always been about the next man up.
The Falcons will travel across the pond to London in a Week 5 matchup against the Jets and will have to find a replacement for Oliver, who has taken an overwhelming number of the snaps in the slot. Fifth-round rookie Avery Williams took over for him during the Washington game, and he actually played well.
Williams only allowed two catches for 14 yards on four targets, but as Arthur Smith told the media, the team will look at every option.
"We're going to look at a lot of different options (at nickel)." Said they are still very early in the process of trying to figure out how to account for Isaiah Oliver's absence.
— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) October 6, 2021
Richie Grant and Darren Hall could see more snaps in Oliver’s absence, but you would like your second-round pick to get most of those opportunities. Grant has primarily been regulated to special teams duties, seemingly because of his failure to grasp the playbook.
Hopefully, we see more of Grant in big nickel packages because sooner or later, the staff will have to play their second-round pick. It isn’t encouraging that a fifth-round pick is playing over Grant, a second-round pick, and Hall, a fourth-round pick. Still, there is plenty of time for Grant to make his NFL debut on defense.
Grant’s prowess defending the run is more valuable than that of Hall or Williams, but if the staff can’t trust Grant to be in the proper position, he won’t see the field. This is a prime opportunity for him to receive playing time, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see more of Avery Williams than Grant.