Don't Overthink Ed Oliver as Top NFL Draft Prospect

Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a weird year for Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver. On March 5, 2018, Oliver announced his intention to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft - nearly 15 months prior to the event. It's common for underclassmen declarations to start rolling in late November/early December but Oliver announced his decision after Houston's first spring practice in 2018.

A consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2017, Oliver became the first sophomore to win the Outland Trophy in the award's history. A five-star recruit from Westfield High School in Houston, Oliver logged 138 tackles, 38.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 9 pass breakups and 4 forced fumbles over his first two seasons in college.

Regarded as one of the most dominant defensive playmakers in the nation, Oliver was OddsShark's early favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft when its opening odds were released. Since those odds were released in September, things haven't exactly gone to plan for Oliver.

It took until Houston's sixth game of the season for Oliver to record his first sack of the year before notching two against East Carolina in mid-October. The next week against Navy, Oliver suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for Houston's next four contests.

During Oliver's fourth game out of the lineup, he and head coach Major Applewhite had a heated exchange because Oliver was wearing a jacket on the sideline. You read that correctly. In case you missed it:

Applewhite had the following remarks on the situation:

"We just have a rule on the sideline that guys that are participating in the games, and specifically starters, that they have jackets. You don’t want a thousand guys in a jacket when it’s only 50 degrees outside. You want guys to be tough. Some guys had ‘em early on, and I asked ‘em to take ‘em off. Ed had one, so I asked him to take it off, because I didn’t want to be unfair."

Ridiculous rule. Ridiculous reaction. Ridiculous situation. How does it impact his draft stock? Not a bit. With that said, #JacketGate will be something regularly discussed over the next several months.

Oliver played in Houston's final game of the regular season against Memphis and suffered a setback with his knee while doing so. Oliver has since announced that he will sit out Houston's Bowl Game to focus on staying healthy and training for the NFL Combine.

While his final season at Houston didn't go as planned, his career ends with 192 tackles, 53 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in 32 career games. Make no mistake about it, Oliver is still a damn good prospect. Despite an odd season, whatever you thought Oliver could become before the season should remain exactly the same. He has the upside to become one of the NFL's premiere defensive playmakers. Let's examine his skill set.

I stood next to Ed Oliver this season at the ECU game and I would estimate he is 6-foot-1ish and 275ish pounds which is far less than what is desired for an NFL interior defensive lineman. His size is only an issue if it's an issue and it didn't limited him in college. For the most part, Oliver held his own exchanging power in the trenches with interior offensive lineman and he plays with exceptional leverage to maximize his play strength.

This rep is a great example of his play strength and balance at the point of attack. Per usual, Oliver does well to win with first contact to control the rep and reset the line of scrimmage. This penetration allows him to find the football while using his hands and power to play through contact and finish. Notice how well he anchors despite the down block from the left guard. Oliver is undersized but his ability to anchor against the run and make plays is not inhibited.

Oliver's anchor and play strength to defend the run is exciting but I especially love his ability to use his quickness to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield. On this next play, Oliver explodes off the ball with terrific leverage that enables him to get under the hands of the blocker, breaks through the gap, finds the football and finishes. His quickness and leverage is rare for an interior defensive lineman and he pairs that with exceptional body control and instincts to find the football.

Oliver is capable of wrecking the line of scrimmage and you can see that on this next play. Oliver shoots the gap, keeps his pads low, plays through contact and eliminates any chance of a positive gain for the offense. Notice the body control and balance when splitting the double team - he's unbelievable.

Because the level of competition is so inferior, I payed little attention to how Oliver performed against Rice but this next rep was impossible to ignore. Per usual, Oliver is playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage after blowing up the center. But pay attention to the incredible display of athleticism by Oliver here. Despite his momentum carrying him up the field in the opposite direction, Oliver contorts his frame back the other direction and drags down the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. That flexibility, in this situation, is stuff from another planet.

Pressure in the face of the quarterback is undefeated, and Oliver is a guy that can generate it with consistently. That same explosiveness, hand usage, flexibility and leverage that makes him a standout run defender also makes him a dynamic interior pass rusher. As you will see on this next play, Oliver puts so much stress on interior blockers to move laterally and stay square to him in pass pro and Oliver is capable of immediately slipping past them.

Oliver "only" had 13.5 career sacks in college but studying his tape reveals necessary context to understand why that total is modest. First, Houston feature frequent 3-man rushes with Oliver lined up over the center which routinely leads to two and three blockers for him to beat on any given rep. And even when Houston sends 4+ rushers, Oliver still commands crazy attention from the offense as you will see on this rep. Oliver is blocked by both the center and guard while the running back also steps up to chip on Oliver on a 3rd and 7.

Oliver is a rare dude with a high ceiling in the NFL. Some may be cautioned by his lack of ideal size or the ridiculous #JacketGate situation, but I implore you not to fall victim to these narratives. The skill set and ability Oliver exhibits on the field is that of a top-10 NFL Draft Pick. Don't overthink it.


Written By:

Joe Marino

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Joe Marino is a Senior NFL Draft Analyst at TDN. Marino comes to TDN after serving as a draft analyst for NDT Scouting, FanRag Sports and Draft Breakdown dating back to 2014. In 2017, Marino became a Huddle Report Mock Draft Champion when he produced the most accurate mock draft in the world.