The Colorado Buffaloes under Mike MacIntyre has become something of a defensive back factory. Considering MacIntyre’s experience as a secondary coach, it’s no surprise that Buffs were able to develop Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon, Tedric Thompson and Ken Crawley. The next star cornerback will be Isaiah Oliver, and there’s a good chance he will be the best of the bunch.
Oliver is one of the most talented defensive backs we’ve ever seen at CU. He is, simply put, a freak athlete. At 6’1 with a 210 lbs. frame, Oliver is large for a corner. But despite his size, he has blazing speed and agility to spare. He starred on the CU track team this spring and showed just how marvelous of an athlete he is. Among his many accomplishments as a heptathlete and decathlete, Oliver ran the 60-meter in 6.94 seconds, the 100-meter in 10.70, and a high jump over 6 feet. Overall, he finished 7th in the Pac-12 decathlon and 7th in the 110-meter hurdles. Not bad for his secondary sport.
Of course, a player being a physical freak doesn’t mean he’ll be a great football player. But Oliver has proved his skill on the field, and then some. In 2016, he was listed as the third corner, but because CU often had five DBs on the field with Awuzie in the slot, Oliver saw significant playing time on the outside defending some of the best receivers in the country. According to Pro Football Focus, he had an above average 80.7-grade in his 517 snaps, and of all the returning Pac-12 corners, he allowed the second lowest passing percentage (43.1%) on throws he was targeted. Using more traditional stats, he racked up 34 tackles (23 solo), 7 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception. That interception showcases what makes him special as a cornerback:
And from another angle:
On this play, Oliver played bump and run coverage and was able to keep up with Michael Rector, who was literally a sprinter on the Stanford track team. After keeping up with a guy who ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, Oliver read the ball perfectly and made an athletic diving interception to finish off Colorado’s upset. Tedric Thompson made a strikingly similar interception that very game (go to 0:47 of this video), but it’s still rare for a player to be able to make a play like that. It’s even more rare for someone to make it look as easy as Oliver did.
What separates Oliver is that he has the technique and football IQ to maximize his ridiculous athleticism. Even if he were the same player as he was last year, he would be one of the best corners in the Pac-12, but with another year under MacIntyre, he’ll likely be a significantly better player, one capable of being one of the best in the entire nation.
Colorado appears to be thin at cornerback after Anthony Julmisse’s arrest, but if Oliver can ease those concerns and he develops into the player he has the potential to be, he can essentially take away half of the field from the opposing quarterback. The opposite cornerback — likely Kevin George or Trey Udoffia — will go through growing pains, but Oliver’s play will allow the Buffs to shift their defense towards the opposite side to make up for those struggles. Oliver realizing his potential would be invaluable to the Colorado defense. It’s only a matter of time before he does.