Falcons: Isaiah Oliver has found his niche in the slot, proving doubters wrong

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The Isaiah Oliver saga in Atlanta 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, and last year was no different.

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. Raheem Morris took over for Quinn and named Jeff Ulbrich the de facto defensive coordinator, who certainly 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 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 Oliver is a nickel back through and through, which plays like 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.

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 noticed the improved play as well. 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 has begun to turn. Through two weeks of the 2021 season, Oliver has played just fine. He gave up a touchdown last week against the Bucs but also had multiple notable plays.

Oliver had a key forced incompletion with a hard hit on Chris Godwin on third down. He also had an impressive tackle on Ronald Jones on a short second down run that stopped him from getting the first down. He’s played a significant amount of snaps in the slot this season, one of the most in the league.

In those snaps, he has certainly squashed the narrative by fans that he is a bust. Oliver hasn’t played spectacularly by any means; his coverage skills are exposed at times. Still, in the slot, his strengths are accentuated — i.e., physicality, tackling, etc.

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