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Isaiah Oliver will start at cornerback in 2019, and that’s a good thing for the Falcons

The promising second-year player is poised to assume the role of starting corner.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Oliver will be a starting cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons in 2019. If it wasn’t obvious where the team was leaning when Robert Alford was released, Dan Quinn made it official this week with his comments to the mothership’s Kelsey Conway during the 2019 NFL Annual Meeting:

“Yes,” Quinn responded, when asked if Isaiah Oliver would be the Falcons’ starting second outside corner in 2019. Quinn continued:

“There was some on-the-job training that he had to go through, like all rookies do. And that’s an important step that you can’t miss. I’m glad that we got that done. It’s the length and size. He’s really patient at the line of scrimmage and he’s really been putting the work in this offseason to get himself into that space to play really well.”

Isaiah Oliver was a fringe first round prospect heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, and was widely heralded as a second round steal for the Atlanta Falcons at pick 58. We were still rubbing our eyes, digesting, and interpreting the selection of wide receiver Calvin Ridley when he landed in the Falcons’ lap — the big, long corner out of Colorado was Atlanta-bound.

That pick would prove pivotal and signal a shake-up in the secondary going forward, leading to the eventual release of stalwart defensive back Robert Alford after six seasons.

The reins are now firmly in the hands of Isaiah Oliver, and with his performance in 2018 there’s definitely reason to be optimistic of that reality. With a 6-foot frame and 33 ½ inch arms accompanied by 4.5 speed, Oliver has the length and legs that will make him a true asset in Atlanta going forward. As evidenced by his increased playing time in the final four games of the 2018 season, the Falcons are high on their second-rounder — as they should be.

Over those final four games Isaiah Oliver averaged a PFF defensive grade of 69.2 (nice), including a coverage grade of 68.85, and a tackling grade of 63.1.

For a full perspective of his rookie production, in 183 coverage snaps Oliver graded out at 70 on defense, 69.6 in coverage (nice), and 77.6 tackling.

For comparison, with 600 coverage snaps in 2018, Robert Alford landed at 56.6 on defense, 53.1 in coverage, and 62.8 tackling.

It’s obviously a small sample size from Isaiah Oliver at the NFL level, but with his late-season showing the Falcons deemed Alford and his salary expendable.

So why should you be comfortable with Oliver on the outside opposite Desmond Trufant? Because he’s the big, physical corner that Dan Quinn has wanted on this team since Jalen Collins shot himself in the spikes multiple times. His college tape is jam-packed with highlights that make him such an enticing starter. He defended 25 passes in his three years at Colorado, putting his timing and hands on full display. When targeted over those four games at the end of his first NFL season, he tallied an average of 26 yards allowed per game with 50 combined snaps.

Sure there were some ugly moments (as with all rookie campaigns), but Isaiah Oliver established his value with increased snaps toward the end of the season. That made Robert Alford a cut candidate — and eventual cut recipient — and Oliver the heir-apparent to the CB2 spot on Atlanta’s defense.

With Coach Dan Quinn’s comments this week, all thoughts of selecting a cornerback in the first round should be tossed in the nearest garbage can. The Atlanta Falcons are entering the 2019 with second round draft pick Isaiah Oliver as a starting corner, and with his limited snaps at the NFL paired with his college production, it’s something you should be excited about.