Depending on how the 2018 NFL and NCAA seasons play out, Ed Oliver, DT, Houston might be the first player selected in the 2019 draft. As a 6'2, 290 pound nose tackle, some scouts might dock him as a talent based on size, but the game is changing. The NFL is consistently shifting towards a fast-paced tempo where speed is emphasized over size. A few short years ago, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins fell to the fourth round because of concerns about his size. Not too many years later, Aaron Donald was selected in the first round. Both are Pro Bowl-caliber talents, and both are "undersized." I expect Ed Oliver to emerge as the next undersized Pro Bowl talent at defensive tackle.
Oliver is a true one-technique defensive tackle who plays the position like a top-tier Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Has been dominant since his freshman season, when he burst onto the scene against Houston with 7 tackles and 2 sacks. Over 25 career games, he has recorded 39.5 tackles for loss. Has the dominant athleticism necessary to control the line of scrimmage and dominate against both the run and the pass. As a defensive lineman, he is versatile in both stunts at the line of scrimmage and in playing off of blockers to dominate against the run. It is not uncommon to see him being held by a blocker only to break away and make a tackle in the backfield. Oliver is tenacious. Oliver is aggressive. Oliver is also one of the best pure tacklers to emerge out of the college ranks in recent years at defensive tackle. High motor player who outworks his opponents along the offensive line on every play. Does not rely on one specific tool to beat blockers; instead, probes the opposition on every snap for signs of weakness and utilizes those weaknesses to his advantage. One snap he'll use his phenomenal lateral movement skills to make a blocker miss, on the next step will simply out-position the blocker, relying on proper pad level and leverage to gain a physical edge on the opposition. Showcases extremely good use of hands to distance himself from blockers, but not overly reliant on moves like swim moves that make him vulnerable to double teams. Even when double-teamed, finds ways to out-maneuver and out-work the offensive line en route to the ball-carrier. His best moves are his forklift and bull rush, which, when combined with his physical strength, makes him a dominant force at the line of scrimmage.
Oliver also showcases an extremely high level of awareness on plays. Does not quit even on the rare occasion he is driven to the ground by a blocker; instead, Oliver will rebound and in some cases will even bring down the ball-carrier behind the line of scrimmage after rebounding. Does not bite on lead blockers or reverses; instead, is aware of the ball-carrier on every snap and is patient enough to put himself in position to make a play on every snap. Has the speed necessary to get downfield to make tackles as well. One of the highest-motor players you will see on film, and has the body strength to force blockers off balance. Especially dominant against blockers who play with a high pad level, as Ed Oliver clearly has a strong understanding of how to utilize leverage to his advantage on an every-snap basis. While some scouts will criticize his size and this might lead to him not being the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, Oliver has one physical trait which makes him stand out; showcases the arm length to make him a threat in the passing game. Regularly bats down passes which makes him an even bigger asset to a defensive coordinator. Oliver is the type of player who will make things happen by any means necessary.
Ultimately, the biggest knocks against Oliver are a minor injury history (dealt with a knee injury at one point in 2016, missing 4 games) and his ability to generate sacks. That being said, he has been mostly healthy throughout his collegiate career and dominated against an NFL-caliber quarterback in Lamar Jackson, a game in which he recorded 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss,3 batted passes, and a forced fumble. He left this game early with that knee injury. The injury history is not a major one, and that performance against Jackson shows that he can perform against NFL-caliber quarterbacks. On every snap, Oliver is clearly the best player on Houston's roster. He is also a high character player who is willing to do what it takes to give back to his community; when Houston was hit with major flooding in 2017, Oliver was right there helping with rescue efforts following Hurricane Harvey. While Oliver has drawn comparisons to Ndamukong Suh by some scouts, these comparisons are, to a degree, misguided. Oliver is a clean player who will not develop a reputation for unclean hits in the NFL. Instead, Oliver is aggressive, but makes textbook tackles within the bounds of the rules of the game. He is one of the hardest workers on the field, and while he does generate solid numbers as a player, he has the heart to back up that production. Never quits on a play, and extremely confident player. Sees himself as the best player on the field, but puts in the effort to back it up. Although scouts will question his low number of sacks, Oliver has the passion and drive to emerge as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.
To me, Oliver's strongest role in the NFL would be as a run-stuffing defensive tackle in a defense with a few established pass-rushers. This would allow him to dominate the line of scrimmage and engage blockers, opening up sack opportunities for pass-rush specialists. While he has thrived in a 3-technique in college, has the physical strength and agility necessary to perform at a high level in a 2-technique as well. If you draft him for what he is, quite possibly the best run-stuffing 3 technique defensive tackle in college football, then Oliver might be one of the safest picks, if not the safest pick, in the 2019 NFL draft. He will be a starter in the NFL and has the upside to be a Pro Bowler. Right now, the only question is how high in the first round will he be drafted. One thing is certain Ed Oliver is one of the most exciting prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft.--Mike B. Matt and Mike Sports. firstname.lastname@example.org
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