It wasn’t until Isaiah Oliver traveled to San Francisco that we understood what kind of talent the Colorado Buffaloes had.
This was back in 2016, when the Colorado Buffaloes were relevant for the first time in over a decade. The Buffs were a frisky bunch, led by a staunch defense and a group of seniors who fought for every yard and every win. Sefo Liufau was everyone’s favorite player, if it wasn’t Phillip Lindsay. Chidobe Awuzie was the team’s best player, unless it was Ahkello Witherspoon or Tedric Thompson.
It was hard to give everyone enough credit during Colorado’s 5-2 start to the season. We thought this was a 4- or 5-win team that could maybe scratch and crawl their way to bowl eligibility. No one expected that kind of a start — well, almost no one hehe — and potentially clinching that sixth win on the road against the Stanford Cardinal.
That game was one of the worst games of football I’ve ever seen, but it was beautiful. The Buffs won 10-5 after forcing four Cardinal turnovers. Thompson had two picks, Jordan Carrell recovered a fumble, and Oliver had the first highlight play of his Colorado career.
The sophomore cornerback was known as a tremendous athlete. 6’1, 195-lbs., long arms, on the track team — oh, and apparently he has the ball skills to track that deep and make the diving interception. Oliver followed up that play with a game-sealing punt return touchdown against UCLA the following week.
The talent was obvious, but almost too obvious. The next season Oliver didn’t get to do much because teams completely avoided his side of the field. There was no Witherspoon to his Awuzie, no Jalil Brown to his Jimmy Smith. Despite Oliver’s brilliance the CU defense collapsed as the Buffs started 5-0 and finished 5-7.
Projected as a first or second round pick, Oliver did the smart thing and left Colorado for the NFL Draft, ultimately landing with the Atlanta Falcons. He showed promise there, but he never quite developed into a plus player there. Injuries didn’t help, nor did the constant changes in defensive coordinator.
After five seasons in Atlanta, Oliver signed with the San Francisco 49ers in the 2023 offseason. He has proved an excellent fit in Steve Wilks’ defense. The Niners have their corners play aggressive and close to the line of scrimmage, where Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir and Oliver all make the most of their physicality.
It goes without saying that he and the San Francisco secondary will be challenged against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s a big game player and will be in position to help the Niners to their first Super Bowl since 1994.