Isaiah Oliver began the season at right cornerback opposite A.J. Terrell, but once Raheem Morris took over and Darqueze Dennard was healthy, Oliver was moved inside to the slot. He looked much more comfortable covering slot receivers and supporting the run — nickel backs are usually tasked with run support more so than boundary corners due to their proximity to the line of scrimmage.
When Morris was promoted to interim head coach, Jeff Ulbrich was named the defensive coordinator who had this to say about Oliver. “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.”
Playing in the slot allows for Oliver to pressure more and blitz off the edge, which is exactly what Dean Pees’ expects out of his nickel corner/safety. Releasing him could save the Falcons over $2,000,000 on the 2021 cap, but I think the value he presents in this new system is too great to cut.
The former Colorado Buffalo was significantly better rushing the passer and defending the run than against the pass — due, in part, to his position change. The Falcons, without question, need help at the boundary cornerback position, but if Oliver is more valuable inside than that’s where he will play.
Arthur Smith’s entire philosophy is based around fitting schemes to players, not the other way around — therefore Dean Pees will do the same.
Pees: Our talent and roster will dictate what we're going to do, not me. We can go in a lot of different directions. I think our job as coaches is to put our players in the best possible position they can be in to do their job, and that will give us the best success. #Falcons
— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) January 29, 2021
It is clear that Oliver isn’t going to thrive as a boundary corner, but that shouldn’t affect his ability to succeed in the nickel corner or safety roles. I detailed what Dean Pees’ scheme involves and what it demands of players, and Isaiah Oliver could fit in seamlessly — for multiple reasons.
During the 2018 season, the Titans dialed up a nickel personnel package on 73% of defensive snaps — ninth-most in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. More defensive backs on the field require more diversity, where you need them to help in run-support just as much as defending the pass — where Oliver thrives.
Pees also loves to, as he reiterated in a press conference, blitz anyone from anywhere — per the video below. Oliver thrives when blitzing, another reason he is a perfect match for his new defensive coordinator.
Can’t stop laughing at the brilliance of this defensive scheme. #Titans rush 4—one of which is a corner, Jayon Brown sprints back into coverage, and Wake destroys the edge. Browns all kinds of confused. Dean Pees, you wild man. pic.twitter.com/ihbBGZwLrD
— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisWSMV) September 9, 2019
Oliver is an extremely cerebral player too, which Pees’ defense requires. This really could be his breakout year with a new coordinator in a full-time role as a nickel corner or safety. The Falcons only have Ricardo Allen as a starting-caliber safety, and though I think Oliver can play safety, he should still be more of a third-option. Terry Fontenot will surely address the position through the draft or free agency, but fans should be excited to see Oliver in a new role under Dean Pees in 2021.