2019 NFL Draft: The misunderstanding of Ed Oliver Jr. (PFN Film Room)

Former Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver Jr. is rising up 2019 NFL Draft boards. This is due in part to what he’s put on tape. Once you get a load of Junior on the football field, you’ll gladly sell the farm for him. Just be sure to keep the horses around.

As a young boy, Ed Oliver was struck by the thought of owning a horse. So much so that several weeks after seeing someone riding one down the street, Oliver had his own. If you’re from Texas, riding a horse may seem cliche. But when you live in a city like Houston, horseback riding is not as prevalent as one would think. Unless of course, you’re Ed Oliver Jr.

For the next decade, Oliver’s life would revolve around the care and enjoyment of these animals. In his early phase, he’d give up football since it meant yielding time with them. But what started as a hobby would soon define him as a man. With the NFL draft roughly a week away, the football star from Houston will be one of 23 future NFL players in attendance. It’s expected that Oliver will not only be drafted in the first round but early on. His love and care for his horse would coincidentally prepare him to become one of the most dynamic players in the 2019 NFL Draft class.

Work Ethic/Motor

Unbeknownst to him, Oliver was procuring qualities that would benefit him in his future. From the beginning, having to groom, feed and care for a horse were instrumental in building character. Horses are hard work. Oliver’s father would use the horse to keep Junior’s behavior under control. Furthermore, his school work would have to be in order if he hoped to see her. Ironically, he’d mature into something symbolic of that in which he loved. Oliver would become physically and mentally tough, disciplined and athletic. All of this culminating into the football player he is today.

Below are some clips of Oliver’s junior season at Westfield High School. You can see why he was a five-star recruit and top player in the nation following his senior year.

Oliver is relentless from snap to whistle. With arguably the highest motor of the 2019 class, this was undoubtedly ingrained in him before his college days. There are no days off when there’s a 1,000-pound animal to care for. Horses need to be fed, given exercise and there are loads of chores to be completed. Oliver understands this, and it shows on film. He’s continuously seen running down the ball carrier all over the field. The guy covers some serious ground.

He’d bring that same work ethic to the next level. After a few practices on the second team defense, he’d become a starter. It was unmistakable from the time he was a freshman that Oliver was the most talented player on the field for the Houston Cougars.

Oliver exhibits elite range for an interior defensive lineman. His effort level will rapidly benefit whichever NFL team is fortunate to select him.

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Burst

Being able to wreak havoc in backfields is suggestive of a quick first step. Oliver’s reaction speed and burst out of his stance are similar to his play effort. Off the charts good. You will see it on every single snap. The clips we broke down earlier will attest to it as well. This kid can squeeze through a gap before an offensive lineman has established any leverage whatsoever.

Being explosive is a tremendous asset for an interior lineman. Whether stopping the run,

or defending the pass.

Oliver’s greatest strength as an interior lineman is and will always be the ability to penetrate gaps. Not that he’s incapable of a two-gap strategy, but frankly he’s better utilized in a “let ’em rip” style of defense.

Every NFL team currently covets a player who can force interior pressure consistently. On film, Oliver has proven more than adequate. Not many current NFL defensive tackles can fire off the ball as he does. He’s proven he can dominate at both high school and collegiate levels. His distinct strengths of quickness, effort, and aggression have catapulted him to this moment. But what of the red flags? There are seemingly countless reasons to avoid the risk of drafting Ed Oliver next week.

Small size/small school

Ed Oliver was a consensus five-star recruit coming out of high school. As a top recruit, he was offered scholarships to play for LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M and Oklahoma to name a few. Instead, Oliver did what he’s always done. He’d go against the grain.

Oliver enjoys the simple things in life. Like playing football. He loves his family, which he’d cater to with his decision to remain in Houston. His brother was also a Cougar, and Oliver genuinely did not want to make his family choose between the two of them on Saturdays. By remaining close to home, he’d be able to spend time with his four horses. For the Olivers, horses were family.

Additionally, Oliver has constantly been knocked for being undersized for an NFL defensive tackle. Luckily for Oliver, the NFL has transformed in the last decade to become a pass-heavy league. To combat this strategy, many NFL teams are becoming more and more athletic up front. More athleticism has allowed coordinators to become more creative. With that said, being able to take the offenses’ focus off of Oliver will be a team’s first task.

Versatility

The best way for an undersized interior lineman to succeed in the NFL is to be versatile. I believe that scouts have been over critical of Oliver’s ability to play all over the defensive line. I consider Oliver capable of succeeding at 0,1,2,3,4 and 5-techniques at the next level. My only concern for his effectiveness lies within his coordinator’s creativity. Take the following breakdown for example.

I don’t see two-gap strategies in Oliver’s future. There is a line when it comes to size, strength, and technique. However, who’s to say he couldn’t be placed over/shade the center to shoot A-gaps or stunt to B? Also, teams shouldn’t shy away from playing him as a 4 or 5-technique from an odd front. By moving him around, Oliver could take an offensive lineman off guard with his suddenness and quick snap reaction.

If you’re looking for a stable (pun definitely intended) position to stick him in, look no further than a 4-3 front. Luckily for Oliver, a 3-technique position could very well be his home for the next decade or longer. Many scouts believe it to be what suits his strengths the best. The best circumstance would be joining a stout nose or 1-technique defensive tackle to complement Oliver’s aggressiveness. This sort of personnel would isolate Junior. Something he wasn’t used to in college.

Conclusion

Oliver’s competition level in college was not great. With that said, you’d expect dominance in that situation and dominance is what you will see. However, the concerns are real. During his junior year, Oliver banged up his knee and missed some time. He was also involved in an altercation captured on television with his coach while he was injured.

I know it’s speculation at this point, but his interviews have not gone as well as people would have liked either. He seems to rub people the wrong way. Maybe it’s his innocent country-boy demeanor? Or perhaps it’s something much more purposeful.

During a recent interview at Houston’s pro-day, Oliver was asked about his 40-yard dash time.

Maybe Houston’s head coach was frustrated with the way Oliver handled his injury. The coach may have believed his best player was protecting his best interest rather than playing through an injury. For a guy who seemingly puts it all on the line every single play, he’s been very calculated recently. Making decisions to avoid injury may very well be what costs Oliver a top-10 selection next week. Maybe he’s still not 100%. Sources say his visit with the Philadelphia Eagles recently caused them to take him off of their board.

Or maybe the Eagles love him as I love him. Maybe they’re hoping to force a slide so they can swoop in and take him. I still see a hard-working horse lover and an elite athlete at a position short on elite athletes. I also see a genuine motivation to become a great NFL player. Maybe this is why Oliver is so concerned for his NFL future.

A passion to be great

I think it’s all just a misunderstanding. Oliver plays the game with a child-like mentality. He’s always excited and isn’t one to stay still for very long. Someone just needs to let him loose. All the commotion that comes with the draft doesn’t connect with Oliver’s style.

When asked what he plans to do after being drafted, Oliver’s answer always includes his horses. Oliver believes he’ll be great and he’s willing to do what’s required of him. His success at the next level will directly affect those he’s passionate about. His family. And again, his horses are family. Since the day he saw someone riding one down the street, Ed Oliver Jr. has made his intentions quite clear.

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