As a fan of the NFL, it’s easy to get caught up in gaudy sack numbers and be hypnotized by flashy pass-rushing moves. But the NFL is all about subtlety and grunt work, especially in the trenches.
So while a lot of my cohorts are busy drooling over one-trick-pony Brian Burns, I am here to tell you Houston’s defensive tackle Ed Oliver is the player you should be fantasizing about right now.
Oliver has the potential to add his name to the genre-defining defensive tackles that have started to take over the NFL. Your Geno Atkins or Michael Bennetts or Mike Daniels, or, yes, Aaron Donalds of the world. Defense is starting to evolve, and quickness is the name of the game.
Some others from the same game. Ed Oliver (10) just being an athlete.— JG (@JoeGoodberry) February 20, 2019
1) Get-off is very quick, gets pulled down and hops up in a flash
2) Dips under the center's reach
3) runs with RB at top speed
4) Jab-step crossover with a arm-over swim to beat the OL pic.twitter.com/3MqkLLDDUz
If I were to ask you the two biggest things that this Detroit Lions coaching staff values in a defensive player, what are the first two things that come to mind? Versatility and the ability to defend the run.
There is no prospect in this entire draft class that can offer more in these categories than Ed Oliver.
As a run defender—mind you, playing as an “undersized” nose tackle—Oliver has been unstoppable. Three straight years of 14.5 tackles for loss or more. But if PFF grades are your thing, take this snippet from the advanced analytics website.
Most of his grade was coming from outstanding play in the run game where Oliver has been unblockable during his time in college, grading at 90-plus during his first two years and duplicating that with a career-high 94.6 grade against the run in 2018.
As for his ability to rush the pass, that was a little limited due to his use at Houston. Mostly used as a nose tackle in college, Oliver’s insane athleticism wasn’t given the opportunity to show itself enough. And let’s not kid ourselves, this dude’s athleticism is off the charts:
And his versatility makes him an easy pick for Detroit at eight. The big question that seems to arise with Oliver is simply, “Where would he play in Detroit his first year?” My answer: wherever the hell you want to. As Lions Wire’s Erik Schlitt points out, he fits Bob Quinn’s athletic profile at five different positions: nose tackle, 3/5 technique DT, down defensive end, jack linebacker, and off-the-ball linebacker.
Yes, you read that right. Oliver fits the profile of an NFL linebacker, and he’s open to the idea of playing there, too:
“I’d ask myself to play linebacker, too-I’m a very athletic defensive tackle. You never know; I might wind up playing linebacker in the league. I don’t object to it. I feel that I’m a defensive lineman, a 3-technique, but if they pay me to play linebacker, that’s what I’m gonna be doing.”
While Oliver may not technically be a “starter” in his rookie year, he’d certainly make an impact as a player you could use just about anywhere on any down. He’d be the Lions’ wild card in his first year, then give Detroit flexibility when contract talks start with players like Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson or Devon Kennard.
And Ed Oliver is just getting started. Some would say he was misused at Houston, who shoved him in a role that was hard for him to reach his full potential. Put Oliver with the Lions’ premier defensive line coaching staff who helped turn around A’Shawn’s career and has already made a star out of Da’Shawn Hand, and, oh boy, you have yourself a freakin’ game-changer.