Despite the 2018 NFL draft class seemingly not possessing many ‘can’t-miss’ first round prospects, the class as a whole is a deep group, and no positional group is as good or deep as the cornerbacks. The current crop of cornerbacks has some first round potential, as well as depth throughout the middle and late rounds. While most analysts prefer Denzel Ward or Jaire Alexander at the top of the class, the one cornerback whose mix of length and athleticism may separate himself at the next level is Colorado standout Isaiah Oliver.
To understand Oliver’s athletic profile, you have to look beyond the football field. Oliver’s father, Muhammad, played cornerback at the University of Oregon while simultaneously an All-American in track and field. After college, Muhammad played 5 seasons in the NFL while developing into a world-class decathlete. Similarly, Isaiah was a state champion in Arizona in the 110 meter (14.03s) and 300 meter (36.53s) hurdles. He has developed into a 2nd team All-American (SB Nation) on the football field and has kept up on the track as well, finishing 4th in the Pac-12 in the Decathlon.
Oliver oozes potential because his physical profile is as impressive as his athletic profile. At over 6’0 and 201 pounds, Oliver has phenomenal size for a cornerback. Additionally, his wingspan (80 ⅝ in.) and arm length (33 1/2 in.) are in the 98th and 97th percentiles among cornerbacks, respectively. His blend of size, length, and overall athleticism gives him the potential to become a premier cornerback at the next level.
Isaiah Oliver uses his elite length (98th percentile wingspan) to slow WR’s stem. Remains in phase on WR’s hip allows him to make this ridiculous INT pic.twitter.com/8exsF9APbg
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) March 14, 2018
Oliver uses his length at the line of scrimmage to be a force in press man coverage with accurate initial jams. His press technique and hip fluidity stemming from his hurdle background allow him to turn and run with ease. He also has good long speed with no wasted motion, while being able to flip his hips and accelerate, which allows him to stay in phase vertically. Due to his long, rangy frame and sticky press man skills on vertical routes, quarterbacks’ throws need to be placed perfectly over him to have a chance of being completed. When throws are within reach of his incredible length, Oliver possesses plus ball skills to deflect passes. Those ball skills allowed him to accumulate 32 pass breakups over his three years at Colorado, according to NFL.com.
Isaiah Oliver is able to stay in phase vertically, look and lean into WR, and play the ball with his inside hand to disrupt the catchpoint. pic.twitter.com/YMuY48Xs8v
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) March 15, 2018
Oliver thrives at winning at the catchpoint with his long arms, showing the ability to click and close and beat the receivers’ hands. Along with his length and range, Oliver is able to locate quickly, react, and attack with ease. These qualities contribute to Oliver’s capability at coming downhill and matching receivers’ hands to cause pass deflections. While in zone coverage and off-man, Oliver needs to have better reactionary quickness and become a better decision maker. This will only add to his ability to cause pass breakups and make interceptions.
Click + Close. Extends past WR’s hands for PBU at the catchpoint.
Closing speed. pic.twitter.com/pqjBLxLZ1u
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) March 14, 2018
In run support, Oliver comes downhill with good pace and attempts to make tackles around the ankles. Run support isn’t necessarily a strength, but he seems more than willing to fill and try to make tackles. Physicality is something that is missing from Oliver’s overall game, and he could improve by playing with more of an edge in all areas. In the open field, he has pretty good technique in tackling and, with his range, makes tackles or trips up ball carriers at a good rate. With his long speed, he is able to chase down ball carriers and shows positive effort trying to make those plays.
While chase-down tackles are more of a plus as far as scouting cornerbacks go, check out this long speed and effort from Isaiah Oliver (plus some smooth COD). pic.twitter.com/YSbRfAdkaK
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) March 16, 2018
Oliver has some technique to clean up at the next level, as well as a need to get more comfortable in a variety of coverage techniques. This should come with more experience as he progresses through his rookie contract. Oliver will be just 21 years old at the start of his rookie season, and will only just be transitioning into a full-time football player upon entering the NFL. With the added focus on one craft and much needed experience he will gain from playing football year-round, there is no reason that Oliver cannot reach his full potential. With his frame, athleticism, genetics, and youth on his side, his potential is that of an all-pro. While that may take some time to achieve, Oliver has already developed traits that he can use to thrive in specific roles immediately at the next level and help his team win games in year one, as well as moving forward.