In my pre-draft mock, I had the Falcons drafting Oliver at 26. To see him slip to pick 58 was mind boggling to me, but I was glad it happened.
Oliver has some of the greatest length in this class, has great closing ability and is simply the prototypical Falcons press coverage cornerback. Even in year one, we should see this guy go up against monsters like Mike Evans and Michael Thomas twice a year, Alshon Jeffery week one, and AJ Green in week four. This is a quick test of Oliver’s high praise from analysts and draft stock.
Fortunately, Oliver is easily a guy who is ready to compete day one, and we should see him on the field a lot this season. Under defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, he should immediately flourish, and his character and college production speak for him. If you put the pieces together, Coach Quinn is clearly trying to put together the crew he had in Seattle, or a close approximation.
His “Earl Thomas” is Ricardo Allen, who has some of the best leadership in the league and serves as a safety net at the back of the defense, even if he’s not quite the same caliber of playmaker. His “Kam Chancellor” is Keanu Neal, who in terms of physicality and aggression couldn’t have been more of a carbon copy of the recently retired safety. While Atlanta has great cornerbacks, though, Dan Quinn has yet to find his “Richard Sherman.” The Jalen Collins project was an utter failure, and I’d like to think Isaiah Oliver is this team’s Sherman, because in terms of length and physicality and coverage ability, they are similar.
Unlike Collins, there are no character concerns or red flags with Oliver. In today’s NFL, size is becoming essential in cornerbacks. While you may argue guys like Chris Harris beg to differ, the truth is that while wide receivers become increasingly large, the need for corners with size escalates. The fact of the matter is, Oliver’s gargantuan 6’8” wingspan and is NOT to be overlooked.
Overall, I think it is extremely fair to say receivers are in for a big challenge against him. Statistically, Oliver has excelled in press coverage and lucky for him, Marquand Manuel’s defensive scheme revolves around using that press coverage. Expect immediate contribution on that end. On a vertical route, it’s safe to say you will not catch it over Oliver. Don’t believe me? Get this. According to Pro Football Focus’ route tree for Isaiah Oliver, he allowed only a 23.8 passer rating on “go” routes.
With any luck, he’ll quickly prove why teams will regret letting him slip to 58. His major weakness comes against your speediest and shiftiest receivers, which is why he shouldn’t spend a lot of time in the slot early on. Against USC, there was a play where USC WR Steven Mitchell used a double move and left Oliver in his tracks (breaking his ankles). This was an example of why Oliver should stick to primarily defending against longer guys. Granted all this, the Buffaloes were in a Cover 3 set where a Sam Darnold crafted rub route targeted Oliver’s inability to defend horizontally with swift receivers and resulted in a 20 yard gain.
Dan Quinn, among other coaches I’m sure, like their cornerbacks to have the ability to finish plays. In college, Oliver had 30% of the amount of tackles Desmond Trufant did in college, though Oliver had played two less years at the position. Regardless, Dan Quinn, a passionate teacher in the tackling aspect, will benefit Oliver’s game in that sense. In his last season at Colorado, Oliver recorded 18 tackles on receptions without missing a single tackle. This happened to be the most among Power-5 cornerbacks in the class.
In all, Oliver in my mind is the most polished cornerback in this class, which leads to me to the belief that he will end up the most successful cornerback when stacked up against players like Denzel Ward, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.
Bird gang, I’m ready for Oliver to shine. Are you?