University of Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver was not as dominant as a senior in 2018 as he was in his previous two seasons.
Yet ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay does not see Oliver as a high-risk, boom-or-bust pick. McShay predicts Oliver will go to the Buffalo Bills at pick No. 9 in his latest mock draft and thinks the Bills would be fortunate if Oliver lasts that long on the draft board.
“If he’s developed properly, he’s got a chance to be one of the two or three best players in this draft class,” McShay said on a conference call Tuesday. “Anywhere past pick three or four I don’t think it’s a reach at all for Ed Oliver.”
Oliver missed four games as a junior last season due to a bruised right knee. He finished with three sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. In 12 games in 2017, he had 5.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. In 2016, he had 5.0 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Numbers aside, he didn’t look as effective last season.
But the 6-foot-2, 281-pounder spent most of his time playing nose tackle, over center. He moved around, but that was his primary position. That won’t be his position in the NFL, where he will play over the outside shoulder of a guard, as Kyle Williams did during his career for the Bills. Williams’ retirement is an obvious reason why an impact defensive tackle like Oliver is a logical option for the Bills in the first round.
“In terms of the production and the way he finished, I think he could have been used differently and more effectively,” McShay said. “I think playing at nose tackle really kind of limited him. I think he’s a 3-technique, meaning get him on the outside shoulder of the guard, let him explode up the field and let him do what he does best, which is go chase and make plays on the move. That’s who he is.”
Oliver also had a much-publicized sideline tiff with Houston’s head coach, Major Applewhite, during a November game against Toledo. Oliver was sitting out due to the sore knee. He was wearing an oversized jacket on the sidelines and was asked to take it off. Houston has a team rule that only active players, and starters in particular, are allowed to wear the oversized jackets on the sideline during the game.
Applewhite told Oliver to take the jacket off, and Oliver was seen arguing with the coach while heading into the locker room at halftime. Oliver had to be restrained by players and staff. He didn’t come back out on the sidelines for the second half.
Oliver apologized afterward, and Applewhite downplayed it.
Said the coach: “Ed got emotional. He’s young and that’s what happens. He’s not playing and that’s hard and that’s difficult. I don’t hold anything against anyone.”
“I would throw out the sideline issue,” McShay said. “I think it’s a nonissue, to be honest. There was a lot going on there. There was frustration from the coaching staff that he clearly was playing it safe.”
“He’s got potentially $20 million that’s sitting there,” McShay said, referring to Oliver’s first NFL contract. “He was the face of that program. He did everything right for 2½ years, and he was just being cautious about an injury so that he didn’t jeopardize his future and his family’s future. I will never blame a player for that.”
Like NFL All-Pro Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, Oliver is undersized. Donald, the NFL defensive player of the year, is 6-1, 285. Oliver is believed to have played at about 275 at Houston. He weighed 288 at the NFL scouting combine and was down to 281 for Houston’s pro day workout.
Oliver has elite lower-body explosiveness. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds at the pro day, best among all defensive tackles in the draft class (although he’s lighter than most of them.) His vertical jump 36 inches and his broad jump 120 inches, both by far the best among DTs. Donald had a 40 time of 4.68 with a vertical jump of 32 inches and a 116-inch broad jump.
“He’s not a finished product which can be a good thing, if he gets with a defensive line coach that can work on his hands and teach him how to finish,” McShay said. “Listen, he’s not Aaron Donald. I know the comparison was made a lot. There’s similarities there in terms of the size, the speed, the explosiveness. Donald was just always a natural finisher as a pass rusher because he knew how to advance his rush while he was engaged with the offensive lineman. And that’s what Ed’s gotta work on.”