The Falcons didn’t draft Isaiah Oliver in the second round to have him sit. Then again, they didn’t draft Jalen Collins to sit, either, and due to a combination of being outplayed by Robert Alford and his well-publicized suspension. There are no guarantees, even for a tall, rangy, physical second round selection who seems to fit the Dan Quinn mold.
Of course, life is a little easier if your primary competition is out of the way, and the Falcons just decided to put their trust in Oliver and add cap space when they cut ties with Alford. He’s fresh off a poor 2018, but he had a pretty good career in Atlanta and, following a typically classy goodbye message, shouldn’t lack for suitors on the open market.
Thank you Atlanta for 6 incredible seasons. Sucks that it ended on this note. I enjoyed playing in this incredible city. Ima miss my dawgs but I’m excited for the next chapter. #TAT— Robert Alford (@rockorocky) February 5, 2019
That leaves Oliver as the obvious candidate to start opposite Desmond Trufant, with Damontae Kazee, Brian Poole, and a potential draft pick competing for the slot cornerback role. With Kazee potentially moving over, new additions on deck, and Oliver stepping into a bigger role, there’s some uncertainty here.
But much of that is yet to come. Oliver is the only one with a clear, certain path to playing time going forward, and he’ll have to be pretty good immediately for this defense to function at the height of its powers in 2019. I am a big-time Oliver fan and questioned why the Falcons didn’t give him more playing time in 2018, especially now that Alford is gone, and I think despite his lack of experience he’ll fare just fine.
In 14 games with two starts, Oliver was burnt several times but also pitched in an interception, seven pass deflections, and stretches of genuinely quality coverage. He doesn’t lack for athleticism or size, and he won’t even turn 23 until the end of September. The reasons the Falcons were interested in him are no secret—he has the potential to be one of the better #2 cornerbacks in football if it all comes together—but obviously expecting him to be better than the 2017 version of Robert Alford is still going to be a lot for the second year man, even if he should have little trouble being better than 2018 Alford, and he will likely be less boom-or-bust no matter what he does.
Since 2016, Robert Alford forced 64 incompletions (T-1st), but also allowed 2,751 yards and 134 1st downs (both led the NFL)— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) February 6, 2019
In summary, Oliver is going to start, and Oliver has the chance to be special. If he can get there as soon as this season, Dan Quinn’s defense might just be going places.