The Falcons shocked pretty much everyone by not selecting a defensive lineman within the first two rounds. It was by far the weakest point on their team, which meant they had to be pretty impressed by the two guys they did select, Calvin Ridley and Isaiah Oliver.
The selections were not preposterous by any means. A couple months before the draft, many believed Calvin Ridley was a possible top-10 draft choice and would have laughed had anyone told them he would fall all the way to the Falcons with the 26th pick. Atlanta’s offense did lack some explosiveness a year ago and Sarkisian was familiar with Ridley from his time coaching Alabama. Not to mention, who could resist pairing Ridley with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
Oliver was a standout cornerback for the Buffaloes of Colorado. He is a bigger corner, much like the ones Quinn had when he was in Seattle and Jalen Collins, the Falcons second-round selection in 2015. In the NFL today, there is no such thing as too many quality defensive backs. Dan Quinn knows that as well as anyone and obviously thought Oliver was the best player available.
Which leads one to question why Oliver isn’t getting more opportunities despite the fact that Atlanta’s secondary has been torched the entire season.
It pains me to say it because Alford’s improved play in 2017 was a large part of the overall defensive improvement, but he has been burnt by everyone. Across the field from him, Desmond Trufant is in the midst of his worst season as a pro, even Brian Poole hasn’t been as effective as he has been in the past. Oliver has not seen a ton of action but has been forced to play at times because of the number of injuries sustained in the secondary.
In week 4, Oliver made his first start and had quite a few mistakes, including the one that won the game for the Bengals in the closing seconds.
STAND UP @SummervilleFB
— Daren Stoltzfus (@DarenStoltzfus) September 30, 2018
With the Bengals needing a touchdown to win, Oliver has to be more aware, ignore the running back going to the flat and keep his depth so Dalton cannot find a receiver in the corner of the end zone. Rookies are going to make mistakes, but you can see why Dan Quinn is hesitant about trusting Oliver with so much on the line at this point in the season.
Oliver made his second start two weeks ago in place of Robert Alford who was out with an injury. He played much better in that one as the Falcons put together their best defensive performance of the season, holding the Redskins to 14 points. It is worth mentioning, however, that it was one of the few games the Falcons were able to find a consistent pass rush. Part of that had to do with the number of injuries the Redskins suffered on the offensive line. Washington also does not have a fearsome group of receivers. It is hard not to say Alford wouldn’t have done just as well in the same situation.
Taking that into consideration, take a look at the PFF ratings for Falcons cornerbacks this season:
#Falcons CB Season Grades:
Isaiah Oliver – 65.7
Desmond Trufant – 60.8 (career low)
Brian Poole – 60.4 (career low)
Robert Alford – 48.5 (career low)
— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) November 14, 2018
As you can see, PFF agrees with what you are seeing with your eyes: Alford’s play has been hard to watch. Oliver also ranks the highest of the four.
At this point, it’s hard to question Dan Quinn when it comes to the defensive personnel on the field. He’s one of the brightest defensive minds in the game and is not the type of coach that is going to play favorites because the team is financially invested in Alford and Trufant. If those two are on the field, it’s because they give the team the best chance to win.
With that being said, this could be the week Quinn gives Oliver a chance despite the health of his other cornerbacks. He has reiterated that fault does not lie completely with the secondary, but after last week, it is going to be hard to keep Alford out there if he does not show significant improvement. Oliver may not get the start, but this situation has to be nearing it’s breaking point, and Quinn should have a short leash on Sunday.