We’re in the depths of the offseason here at The Falcoholic, and there has been little to nothing in the way of interesting news in ages. So, we’ll have to make some content of our own in the meantime. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be bringing you a new Player Profile series where we’ll take a look at each of the players on Atlanta’s roster. I’ll break down their measurables, past production, and try to project their 2020 season with the Falcons.
We’ll get things started with the projected starters. The fourth group I’ll be examining is CB, where the Falcons have had some significant turnover in 2020. Long-time starter Desmond Trufant is gone, and the team invested a first-round pick in A.J. Terrell to replace him. Can this unit improve measurably from 2019 without their best player?
Today, we take a closer look at third-year player and second-year starter Isaiah Oliver, who will be thrust into the spotlight after Trufant’s departure.
CB Isaiah Oliver
Age: 23 (24 during 2020 season)
Contract: $1.26M cap hit in 2020, rookie contract through 2021 ($1.16M APY)
Career Production: 30 games played, 18 games started | 85 total tackles, 5.05% missed tackle rate | 18 PD, 1 INT, 62.8% completion percentage allowed, 102.1 passer rating allowed
2019 Production: 16 games played, 16 games started | 62 total tackles, 10.1% missed tackle rate | 11 PD, 66.3% completion percentage allowed, 113.0 passer rating allowed
Previous Teams: Drafted 2nd round (#58 overall) by the Atlanta Falcons (2018-present)
Fans—including myself—had high expectations for Isaiah Oliver after he was selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. I viewed Oliver as a first-round talent due to his incredible natural length and plus athleticism for his size, and thought he’d be a perfect long-term complement to Desmond Trufant who could match up more effectively with the bigger WRs in the NFC South, like Mike Evans. While Oliver hasn’t been a train wreck thus far in his career, there’s no doubt that he’s fallen short of my expectations through two relatively lackluster seasons.
Oliver didn’t get much of an opportunity to play in 2018, as he was waiting behind three established starters in Trufant, Robert Alford, and Brian Poole. However, when he got opportunities, he was mostly solid: Oliver didn’t miss a single tackle in 26 attempts, put up 7 PDs and an INT in just 2 starts, and allowed only a 59.3% completion percentage and a 91.1 passer rating. All these marks were solid for a rookie CB, particularly on a defense as injury-ravaged as Atlanta’s.
Those flashes apparently gave the team immense confidence to try and go cheap at the CB position in 2019, as Atlanta moved on from both Robert Alford and Brian Poole in the offseason. In hindsight, keeping at least one of those two players probably would’ve been smart—I’d have at least given a second-round tender to Poole, who emerged as one of the NFL’s best slot CBs last season. Oliver was thrust into the starting lineup as the CB2 in 2019, and struggled mightily (along with the rest of the defense) over the first half of the season.
Oliver did rally in the second half of the season, however, playing much better in coverage and as a tackler as the Falcons closed out the season on a high note. His overall production was fairly lackluster, although he once again posted quality PD numbers. That second-half surge apparently filled the coaching staff with confidence once again, as they elected to move on from Desmond Trufant to free up some post-June 1st cap space. Which, for the record, they have still not attempted to use.
Oliver is slated to be the CB1 or CB2—depending on your opinion of A.J. Terrell—in 2020, and will be depended on to improve measurably from 2019. His natural length and athleticism are still attributes in his favor, and he’s clearly got the talent to succeed at the NFL level if his technique can catch up to it.
Projection: Expect Oliver to improve in 2020 to about the level of an average starter. In favorable matchups where he can use his size and minimize his lack of lateral quickness, Oliver can thrive and play at a high level. Much will depend on defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and his willingness to put Oliver in a position to succeed, instead of stubbornly “playing sides” and letting smaller, quicker receivers take advantage of his weaknesses.