Falcons Breakout Canidates: Isaiah Oliver

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Isaiah Oliver hasn’t quite lived up to his second-round draft selection a few years ago, and he could be in the midst of his final offseason with the Falcons. Oliver began the 2020 season starting opposite rookie AJ Terrell, but he moved to the slot after Darqueze Dennard returned from injury and Dan Quin had been relieved of his duties. Interim head coach Raheem Morris named Jeff Ulbrich as the de facto defensive coordinator, who had to be behind the decision to kick Oliver inside — saying this about the position change, “He’s proven to be a very good tackler. He’s got the ability to support the box. Play almost safety-like roles at times. He’s got length, the size, willingness and tackling ability, all of that.”

Dean Pees reiterated in a press conference that the Falcons would blitz anyone from anywhere, which bodes well for Oliver. Slot or nickel backs are usually tasked with supporting the run more 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. Versatility is key at every level of a Dean Pees defense: defensive linemen need to be able to line up in multiple techniques, linebackers need to be able to blitz and drop into coverage among normal responsibilities, and defensive backs need to support the run and blitz among normal responsibilities — exactly how Ulbrich described him, a Swiss Army Knife.

In 16 games last year, Oliver recorded 70 tackles, four tackles for loss, six passes defended, one sack, and one forced fumble. The new staff has noticed the improved play as well. Jon Hoke, Falcons’ secondary coach, said he was impressed with Oliver’s production once he made the position switch — speaking on the kind of player he could be. He’s shown thus far in his career to be a fringe starter, and he will have to have better than a career year to earn a second contract from the first-year regime.

It seems Oliver takes one step forward and two steps back in each of his three seasons; he’ll flash and inspire belief he’s figured it out, then make a costly error. Opposing quarterbacks target him at an ungodly completion rate, but he is by no means a bad player. There is hope Oliver can bounce back in a new system that he seems to have found a niche in.

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