INDIANAPOLIS – When the Falcons drafted Isaiah Oliver with their second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, it appears they had one eye on the present and the other on the future.
At the time, the Falcons had both of their starting quarterbacks from the 2017 season returning in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.
Fast-forward a year and the Falcons released Alford on Feb. 5 with all signs pointing to Oliver being the player who could assume the starting job opposite of Trufant.
"I think he's going to really thrive," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
"He got reps, he got experience and I think he's one who is going to take a big step."
Oliver played in 14 games in his rookie season with two starts and recorded 23 tackles.
Similar to most rookies, as Oliver got more reps he continued to get more comfortable on the field and his play improved. His first interception of his NFL career came in Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers.
Quinn often talks about the "on-the-job training" players will go through when they're first getting acclimated to a new role. Oliver is a perfect example of someone who embraced the lessons and grew from the experiences, positive or negative.
"If you haven't been beat at cornerback then you haven't played it very long," Quinn said. "What I absolutely love about him, the lessons that he learned this year you had to go through some and I call that on the job training."
Standing at 6-foot, 201 pounds with a 33½-inch wingspan, Oliver has the physical traits and athleticism Quinn likes in his cornerbacks. One of the biggest adjustments Oliver had to make in his transition from college to NFL was playing at the line of scrimmage. At Colorado, Oliver primarily played more off-man coverage.
He certainly has the makeup and talent to be a key piece of the Falcons' secondary in 2019 and based off what Quinn and his coaching staff have seen in games and practices, they're all in on Oliver's development.
"You have to make decisions based on what you think a person can do and what they will develop into," Quinn said. "It' pretty rare for a guy to be as good as they're going to be in their rookie year. I think he and some of the guys from that first year are going to get better as we go."