The Falcons signed Mike Hughes and Dee Alford while drafting Clark Phillips this offseason — all of who are capable of playing the slot. The nickel position was void thanks to Isaiah Oliver departing in free agency, joining the 49ers on a one-year deal.
He was the final member of the 2018 draft class to leave Atlanta, and he finished strong. After spending some of the year recovering from an ACL injury, Oliver rounded into form toward the end of the season, with his best performance coming in a Week 17 victory over the Cardinals in which he posted nine tackles, two passes defended, and a sack.
On the year, the second-round pick logged one sack, one interception, seven passes defended, 36 tackles, and three tackles for loss. Oliver’s Falcons career was a roller coaster. He struggled on the boundary initially but eventually found a home in the slot. Oliver’s skill set dictated that from the jump, but he didn’t get bumped inside until Dan Quinn was fired.
I’m not quite sure whether the Falcons wanted him back because new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen was the only thing standing in the way of that. Dean Pees would’ve advocated for Oliver returning, but the new staff might not have been so inclined.
Life outside of Atlanta hasn’t treated him too well, though. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com noted that he’s been replaced in the Niners’ starting defense.
57) The 49ers gave former Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver more than $4 million guaranteed this offseason. I was constantly perplexed when some spoke of him as a locked-and-loaded starter on one of the league’s best defenses after his struggles in Atlanta. Three weeks into camp, he’s been replaced (at least for now) as a first-stringer. The 49ers are trying Ambry Thomas on the outside in the nickel formation, with outside starter Deommodore Lenoir moving inside in that grouping.
Clearly, San Francisco isn’t satisfied with its nickel unit with Oliver, substituting Thomas for the former Falcons’ corner and kicking Lenoir in from the boundary. I do want to push back a bit on Rosenthal’s takeaway.
Oliver was signed to be the starter; there’s no doubt about that. Maybe, it’s not working out, but that was the initial plan. Moreover, his time in Atlanta wasn’t all bad, especially before his ACL injury and toward the end of the 2023 campaign when he was getting healthier.
We’ll see if this becomes permanent with Isaiah Oliver.