Ed Oliver is coming off a three-year stretch where he was considered the most dominant player in college football. Oliver was a first-team All-America defensive lineman three times. He compiled 53 tackles for loss – an average of almost 18 per season – and 13.5 sacks at Houston.
You would think the 6-2, 287-pound Oliver would be a no-doubt top-five pick in the 2019 NFL Draft with that resume. Why are there so many questions?
“People that you talk to in the league say, ‘Are you going to survive at 272? 275?'” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on a teleconference Monday before asking the other questions. “‘What weight will you hold? You didn’t get the sack numbers in college. Will you get the sack numbers in the NFL?'”
“He’s probably going to play at 280, which is undersized at that position,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay added. “But he’s powerful and has shock in his hands. He knows leverage and how to utilize it. What he’s got to learn is to finish as a pass-rusher.”
Oliver hears those questions all the time, and he set his ideal playing weight between 285 and 290. He told Sporting News on Wednesday he doesn’t pay attention to mock drafts and sells himself the only way he knows how.
“I was a disruptor,” Oliver told SN. “That’s what I do best – disrupt. That one-gap penetration is where I’m going to make my money at in the league.”
There are questions about how Oliver fits in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme if he’s not playing nose tackle, and that has led to variance in his draft position in a year loaded with defensive line talent. Sporting News’ latest mock draft has Oliver going to the Jets at No. 3, and McShay said he would be surprised if Oliver is still available when the Jaguars pick at No. 7.
“What’s crazy about this class is they have everything you want,” Oliver said. “I’m a one-gap-penetrator defensive lineman.
“I played nose guard in college, but I can play them all,” Oliver continued. “I can play the five (technique), I can play the three, I can play nose guard. I can play wherever you want me. With me, I’m so versatile, when you draft me you get a Swiss Army knife. You can use me however you want to.”
NFL DRAFT ORDER: All 254 picks for 2019
McShay believes Oliver will benefit from moving to more of a three technique on the defensive line than in a straight-up nose tackle spot with guards on both sides.
Instead of fighting off double-teams, Oliver will be able to penetrate upfield, McShay said.
“Kind of like Warren Sapp and Aaron Donald,” McShay said. “I’m not saying he’s those guys, but that’s the type of technique, role and position he’s going to play at the next level. I think he’s going to benefit from it. He has a quick first step.”
Sapp was the No. 12 pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and compiled 96.5 sacks as part of a Pro Football Hall of Fame career. He played at 300 pounds.
Donald, who led the NFL with 20.5 sacks last season, was the No. 13 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft and has evolved into one of the best defensive players now. Donald – at 6-0, 280 pounds – has similar dimensions to Oliver.
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“It’s his hand combat,” Oliver said when asked about what he watches most with Donald. “It’s second to none in the league. That’s what separates him. It’s that and his plan to pass rush. The move that always works isn’t the move he starts out with. You learn from him and see how he rushes the passer.”
If Oliver is drafted in the top 10 – or even top five – then that level of play will be the expectation. He believes those questions about his fit within a scheme will be answered by the scheme itself. At Houston, Oliver was used to playing head-to-head with offensive linemen. Moving to a three technique will answer the question about sacks.
“Just the scheme will allow me to have a lot more production,” Oliver said. “Putting me shaded on a man as a one-gap penetrator is ideal for me. Honestly, the scheme will give me five or more sacks a year than in college.”
That’s why Oliver – with all those accolades – is the most interesting pick if he pans out. It is a stretch to call a top-five pick a steal, but when you are talking about a player this dominant, he could be. You could see the dominance in college, and it can be replicated at the next level.
For his part, Oliver is ready for the NFL Draft process to be over. In his words, “It’s time to get started.”
“Hey, I’m just ready to go, man,” Oliver said. “That’s all I can say. I’m ready to win. I’m ready to go compete for a Super Bowl.”
Oliver and other rookies are partnering with Braun for the 2019 NFL Draft in the P&G Lounge, where they will get haircuts and shaves before they hit the red carpet. “They got me nice and tight,” Oliver said. “It’s a big moment in my life, and they took the time to get me right.”