Many amongst Bills Mafia were surprised that Ed Oliver, a player many considered to be a top-five pick, fell to the team at No. 9 overall. After dominating AAC competition at the University of Houston for three seasons after ranking as their best recruit ever as a five-star, the defensive lineman found himself in Western New York, on a team that will use his services well.
Oliver got the approval of the late, great Pancho Billa, as well. And, for a good reason. Though the Houston product didn’t face elite competition week-in-and-week-out, he’s, by all means, an elite prospect. Let’s look at five things to reaffirm that notion.
5. He’s an athletic marvel
Measuring in at 6-foot-2 and 287 pounds, Oliver isn’t the biggest defensive line prospect around. But, he may be the most athletic. At the 2019 NFL Combine, he didn’t do much, but what he did impressed scouts. He recorded a 36-inch vertical, 120-inch broad jump, and threw up 32 bench-press reps.
At his Houston Pro Day, Oliver continued to turn heads with his athletic measurements and testing. He recorded a 4.73 40-yard-dash, 7.15 three-cone-drill, and a blazing 4.22 short-shuttle time. The last two are the most remarkable, as they are freaky-fast times that show his other-worldly short-area-quickness.
4. He’s earned favorable NFL comparisons
When looking at Oliver’s pre-draft measurables and athleticism, it’s hard not to think Aaron Donald. Many NFL draft pundits agree with that, as ESPN’s Mel Kiper and CBS’ Chris Trapasso have both compared him to the back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year, and so has Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
But his comparisons don’t end at Donald. NFL’s resident scout Bucky Brooks compared him to a prime Sheldon Richardson, while Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar saw John Randle, a Hall of Famer, in him. In short, Oliver is earning comparisons to the most elite defenders in NFL history and a Pro Bowler. If he turns out like any of their comparisons, Bills fans should be ecstatic.
3. He wasn’t used correctly at Houston
Houston may not have had a plan in place for Oliver. Instead of playing him at his natural position (3-technique), the Cougars employed Oliver at the nose tackle (0-technique). This can’t be stressed enough; Ed Oliver isn’t a nose tackle.
Oliver’s game predicates on his short-area-quickness, power, bull-rush, and tenacity. Though these four traits are ideal as a nose tackle, they aren’t ideal for a sub-280-pound one. Unfortunately, that’s where he was played for the majority of his college career, and it showed in the box score.
Pro Football Focus tracked Oliver’s pass-rushing production from the nose and his more natural 3/5-technique; the difference was stark. Per the analytics firm, he took 1.245 snaps as a nose tackle and had a pass-rush grade of 76.5. When he was moved to 3/5-tech for 623 snaps, he had an 82.4 pass-rush grade. Luckily, Bills Mafia won’t see their team make the same mistake as he’ll be playing as a defensive tackle in a native 4-3.
2. Pro Football Focus is a fan of his
Yes, Oliver wasn’t appropriately used in college, and yes, he played against inferior competition. But neither stopped PFF from grading him highly coming into the draft. Though they were lower on him than many (No. 11 prospect in their big-board), Oliver ranked highly across the board in terms of analytics.
Oliver ranked second in the class in terms of run-defense grade for defensive linemen at 93.7. In his three-year college career, he averaged an excellent 93.5 run-defense grade, and a 90.8 overall grade. His pass-rushing also picked up in his junior year as he finished with an 88.8 grade. Per PFF, he also tallied an absurd 117 run-stops during his college tenure.
1. He’s raw, but he should make an impact day-one
At this point, we know Oliver is an athletic marvel, and he was used correctly at college, yet remained productive. But, he’s raw. He needs to learn how to disengage blocks on a more timely fashion, and his only pass-rushing move appears to be a bull-rush. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t be effective early on.
Oliver should make an impact for the Bills as an interior run-stuffer immediately. His unusual combination of power, quickness, and flexibility will make him a matchup nightmare for offensive guards and tackles alike. Frankly, his run-stuffing should be able to translate well immediately.
With that known, don’t expect him to make an immediate impact as a pass-rusher in terms of box score stats. In year one, Oliver should be able to create pressure, but he may struggle to get to quarterbacks due to his lack of pass-rushing moves. But, he’ll be effective, just, in the less glamorous stats and position.