The Isaiah Oliver saga for the Falcons has been an interesting one, to say the least. Many fans have long resorted to social media to vent their frustrations with the former second-round pick, but who could blame them? Oliver was incredibly inconsistent over his first three seasons; however, last year was different, as he flashed why so many people were high on him coming out of college.
Oliver began the 2020 season starting opposite rookie AJ Terrell, but he moved to the slot after Darqueze Dennard returned from injury and Dan Quinn was relieved of his duties. Raheem Morris took over for Quinn and named Jeff Ulbrich the de facto defensive coordinator, who had a large part in kicking Oliver to the slot — 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.”
I said back in February 2021 that a permanent move to a safety-like role in the slot for Oliver could prolong his career in Atlanta, and it was met with harsh criticism. 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. Jon Hoke, the 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.
Many fans were hesitant to buy into my notion that he could be a serviceable player in this system in the slot, but the tide eventually started to turn. So much so that Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is trying to expand Oliver’s versatility, cross-training him at safety.
“There’s a couple guys we’re trying to cross-train,” Smith said. “No different than the O-Line. Depending who’s up on gameday, you’ve got guys that can play multiple spots. You’ve only got 48 guys up, and if you want to run multiple personnel packages, which we do, you’ve got to be able to cross-train guys.”
Oliver’s skill set dictates this role much more than the boundary corner role that Dan Quinn had him in during the 2020 season. He can blitz, support the run, and play a variety of coverages — despite not being elite in any single area. Dean Pees wants him to develop even more tools, though.
“(Getting reps at safety) is actually something Coach (Dean) Pees likes,” Oliver said. “Nickels especially, kind of knowing the safety position because those two go hand-in-hand.”