Heading into the 2018 season, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver was considered one of the leading candidates to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. After a lackluster, injury-marred season in which the 6-foot-2, 287-pounder managed just three sacks, questions arose about Oliver’s size and durability. But now, after a draft season that included a solid combine and jaw-dropping pro day, Oliver’s right back in the conversation to be a Top 10 pick on April 25.
As Gavino Borquez reported for Draft Wire, Oliver’s workouts in Indianapolis and at his pro day were truly impressive.
“Oliver previously registered an explosive 36-inch vertical and 120-inch broad jump at the combine earlier this month,” he said, “but he didn’t take part in the other drills, which were completed (at the pro day). Oliver was timed unofficially between a speedy 4.73 seconds and 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That would have ranked No. 3 among defensive linemen who ran at the combine, behind Rashan Gary and John Cominsky.”
“The former Cougar followed that up with an astounding 4.13 short shuttle and 7.15 3-cone drill,” Borquez continued. “For reference, running back Le’Veon Bell ran a 4.25 short shuttle at the Combine in 2013 and his 3-cone drill would’ve ranked Top 5 among all wide receivers that participated in Indianapolis this year.”
Those numbers, while impressive, aren’t all that surprising. As Allan Uy pointed out at Cover 1, it doesn’t take much time watching Oliver play to see his explosiveness in action.
“The key to his entire game is his legs,” Uy said. “They power everything he does and are critical to his success. Much of his upper body strength relies on him loading up energy in his legs and transferring it through his hips and up his back into his arms. By themselves, his arms and hands lack skill and refinement. But he’s a high-effort player with a lot of untapped potential and a strong base to build upon due to his amazing lower body explosiveness and change of direction. Because of his low center of gravity, he often sets himself up in an advantageous position to gain leverage against his opponent. With the right additions to his toolkit, he could be a dominant defensive tackle for years to come.”
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports is also a fan, comparing Oliver’s game to that of Hall of Famer John Randle.
“Going with a throwback for Oliver despite his presence as a “new-age” one-gapper at the three technique position, charging through the outside shoulder of either guard,” he wrote. “That’s, at least, where I’d play him essentially all the time, despite varying suggestions as to all the types of roles he could assume – and thrive in – at the next level. The same was true for Randle. Kind of. With him though, as an undrafted free agent from Texas A&M-Kingsville, coaches initially didn’t know where to play him. The two are almost identically sized, and once Randle was given free rein to attack inside at defensive tackle, he dominated for nearly a decade. Like Randle did, Oliver plays with otherworldly explosiveness and aggression. His quickness and loose hips translate to ridiculously low-center-of-gravity power.“
Stephen White of SB Nation is another draftnik who’s a fan of what Oliver brings to the table — and given that played on the defensive front in the NFL, he should know talent when he sees it. For White, Oliver’s pedestrian production in 2018 had a lot more to do with the scheme at Houston than the player.
“Here you have a guy who is killing people with his quickness on one play, then dumping them on their ass with his power on the next, but he had to do all these wondrous things from mostly either heavy or head-up alignments in the games that I watched,” White said. “What I mean by that is that he was either aligned head-up on an offensive lineman, which isn’t a good alignment for trying to fire off upfield, or he was in a ‘heavy’ alignment. That means he was technically shaded to one side or the other, like a 2i on the inside half of the guard, but it wasn’t much of a shade and he was still staring across at least a half a man when he was in his stance.”
“Again,” he continued, “I’m sure his coaching staff had their reasons, but selfishly I would have liked to have seen Oliver lined up in the gaps a helluva lot more. It would have put him in much better position to really showcase the totality of his talents, which would have in turn allowed him to make even more big plays, which also probably would have translated into more success for his team, in general.”
Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire doesn’t think Oliver will have to wait long to hear his name called on April 25, mocking him to the New York Giants at No. 6 overall.
“We don’t know what Oliver’s capable of as a true three-tech tackle since he played nose tackle on far too many of Houston’s snaps last season,” Farrar said, “and he may have more untapped athletic potential than anyone else in this draft class.”
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, on the other hand, forecasts a slightly longer wait — Green Bay and the 12th overall selection.
“Imagine a defense with Ed Oliver, Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels on the line alongside newly added edge-rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith with Adrian Amos and Jaire Alexander patrolling in the secondary,” he said. “That’s stout enough to get back in control of the NFC North. Ed Oliver is a unique talent with rare first-step quickness and awareness as a lineman. His production wasn’t great at Houston, but he often lined up at nose tackle and was asked to play through constant double or triple teams from offenses.”
A landing spot like Green Bay could be a bit problematic from an Individual Defensive Player (IDP) perspective — on a team running a 3-4 base he could be re-classified as a defensive end by some fantasy providers – just as Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams was last year at My Fantasy League.
However, that isn’t to say that regardless of Oliver’s landing spot he won’t be of interest to IDP owners — because when I look at him on tape, that’s who I see …Aaron Donald. Or at least a player like Donald — undersized but so quick off the snap and explosive that it more than makes up for it.
This isn’t to say that Oliver’s going to rampage his way across the NFL on his way to two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and a 20-sack season over his first five NFL campaigns. As a matter of fact, Oliver won’t be the first interior lineman selected in this year’s NFL draft — that’s going to be Alabama’s Quinnen Williams.
But it’s Oliver who has the skill-set that’s tailor-made for piling up stats. Racking up numbers. Piling up fantasy points. He’s my No. 1 rookie defensive tackle in 2019, and depending on who lands where he could be a Top 3 rookie defensive linemen overall.