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NFL Draft

Where Does Ed Oliver Stand Entering 3rd NFL Season?

  • The Draft Network
  • July 6, 2021
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I’m rocking through the 2019 defensive tackle class this week for The Draft Network. I had Quinnen Williams earlier, and this week, I’m looking at Ed Oliver.

Oliver is one of those odd players who was hotly contested during the process, drafted early in 2019, and largely left undiscussed over the last two years. He’s been a starter in Buffalo—neither a liability nor a star. Watching him over, I felt that he was pretty good, with the potential to be really good.

One of the biggest concerns of Oliver’s projection to the pros was his handling of double teams. Even with a natural pad-level advantage, Oliver plays under 300 pounds, which makes it tough for him to deal with two NFL-sized offensive linemen coming downhill. When Oliver is forced to take on those double teams, he can get worked back into space, which opens large running lanes and makes it tougher for linebackers to work in the gaps around him. Watch him get displaced by the left tackle and guard here on a touchdown run.

Now, because Oliver knows that sitting on double teams isn’t his game, he works hard to split them quickly. By attacking one incoming lineman and trying to disrupt the timing and harmony of the combination block, Oliver can show color in the gap while only losing minimal ground, occasionally getting a paw in on tackles.

Because Oliver plays urgently upfield through combo blocks, he’s a nightmare to seal for wide zone teams. Oliver regularly beats reach blocks with his upfield explosiveness, creating hard edges and forcing running backs back into help. In the event that backs try to work around him, Oliver has the contact balance and quickness necessary to get involved, which creates tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. Against the run, Oliver is a bit of a feast or famine player—but when he gets his wins, he sets the offense behind the sticks, which is to the benefit of his defense as a whole.

The continued hang-up for Oliver is the pass-rush productivity that has been generated from his explosiveness and quickness. Oliver has some nice flashes as a rusher, and at times can really leave his mark on a game. His 28 hurries last season ranked in the top 15 for defensive tackles, but only three sacks and four QB hits simply does not cut the mustard for a top-10 pick and starting 3-technique.

Oliver was still the most productive interior rusher for the Bills last season, and with only veteran nose tackle Star Lotulelei added to the room for 2021, he will likely be the Bills’ best shot at finding an effective interior rush. But Oliver has to win with his hands and his first step at a very high level in order to have a consistent impact as a pass-rusher, in that he doesn’t have as many counter moves or changeups to fall back on. It’s tough for Oliver to turn a failed rush into a successful bull-rush or long arm because he just doesn’t have the physical tools.

He’s still getting there! Oliver looks like a better pass rusher this year than he did in his rookie season, even though his sack numbers dropped. He understands how he wins, and as Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazer also understand how he wins, they’re more willing to let him jump gaps and use his quickness to his advantage. But manufacturing rush angles for your top-10 pick isn’t exactly what you want, and Oliver needs to continue winning these one-on-one reps with more regularity. On these reps, you’ll see Oliver try to throw an initial move (usually working to cross face), fail to do so, and either struggle to return with a counter mover or just rush with power. He doesn’t win as regularly as you’d like with the initial move and doesn’t have too many answers after that first move fails.

All in all, Oliver is definitely a good player. I’m not sure he’ll ever have the caliber of play you’d expect of a top-10 pick, but he was getting better across year two and was always a player who would have to succeed as an outlier. If Oliver is just a five-sack player from the interior, it makes him a productive and valuable piece. I think he’ll end up being that, and he certainly can end up being much more. If he does, a fringe Super Bowl team in Buffalo may get pushed over the edge.

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