He was a dominant player at the college level despite lining up at a position that did not maximize his skill set. Ed Oliver however, is the kind of talent who can overcome less than ideal circumstances and still have an impact on a game.
Like any other rookie, Oliver will be learning on the fly and largely leaning on his natural ability and instincts as he acquires valuable playing experience. But here's what should be expected from the Bills top draft choice in his rookie season.
Oliver has the stature and quickness off the ball that is perfectly suited for the three-technique defensive tackle position in Buffalo's 4-3 defense. The three-technique typically lines up on the outside shoulder of the opposing guard and is tasked with getting up the field to disrupt the timing of pass plays and help to move the opposing quarterback off his spot.
"For us, we don't necessarily feel like we have to have a 300 pounder or a real heavy guy at that position," said Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "We need a guy with great quickness, great get-off, that has strength and athleticism, and Ed has those qualities. He had a lot of what we were looking for at that position and he's so explosive. He has some rare physical traits that we didn't want to ignore. We feel like his strengths are matched for what we're looking for at our defensive tackle, especially the three-technique."
Oliver largely ran with the second team defense in the spring, with veteran Jordan Phillips currently ahead of him on the depth chart. But if the rookie takes advantage of the position match in which he's been placed he could be seeing a lot of snaps in his future.
"Now seeing how they're going to use me, it's great," said Oliver. "I want to just compete and hopefully be on the field on Sundays."
Tackles for loss
In 32 collegiate games, Oliver had an eye-popping 53 tackles for loss. As remarkable as the production is, that figure becomes even more impressive when one recognizes that he made most of those plays from the nose tackle position.
In the Houston Cougars 3-4 defensive front, Oliver at 285 pounds, lined up as a two-gap nose tackle. He often faced double teams on every play. But instead of just playing a role of standing in there and grinding with two offensive linemen on every play to let the linebackers clean up and make plays, Oliver set out to make plays of his own.
He'd routinely defeat double teams and if the help from a second offensive lineman did not arrive in time, Oliver was already in the backfield causing problems for the opposing offense.
"I've watched his film in college and got to see him do some individual work in Buffalo," said former Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. "He's an explosive, powerful athlete. He played a lot of zero technique (head up on the center) at the University of Houston. Now he's going to be playing a lot of three technique work or they're going to ask him to showcase his explosiveness his athleticism. Once he gets comfortable I think you're going to see him get a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better. And he'll eventually take off because of his elite skill set."
Oliver's single-season best for tackles for loss in college was the 22 he had in 12 games as a freshman. Who knows what he's capable of over the course of a 16-game season, but if he stays healthy Oliver should be a major headache for opposing offenses.
Pulling attention off defensive ends
With Oliver causing disruption in the middle and getting upfield, it will demand added attention from the interior of the opposing O-line. It could also draw the attention of a back, who may need to step up to help a lineman drawing Oliver as an assignment in pass protection.
That should help pull attention away from primary pass rushers Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy, who could see more one-on-one matchups as a result.
Even if opponents can keep Oliver off their quarterback with added protection, it shouldn't keep the rookie from preventing a QB the ability to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush coming off the edge.
With no pocket to step up into, quarterbacks will only have the option to scramble to buy time and then it becomes a foot race with the likes of Hughes and Murphy, among others.
"I feel like my skillset is rare. It's a rare combination of size and speed," said Oliver. "I feel I can help the guys rushing outside by getting pressure up the middle and helping the guys outside get sacks. Help out the team. You get sacks, you win games."