The third-year man has a lot to prove this season
When the Buffalo Bills drafted a small (by NFL standards, at least) defensive tackle with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, fans were hopeful that they were selecting a player who would one day be compared to Aaron Donald. At 6’1” and 284 lbs, Donald is absolutely undersized as a defensive tackle, but he’s also an absolute unit. In seven professional seasons, he has 85.5 sacks; if he were to retire tomorrow, he’d be a First-Ballot Hall of Famer.
Those expectations are unfair for any player, but the Bills were looking for an elite interior pass-rush option to take them to the next level. Through two seasons, that elite pass-rush ability has yet to materialize. That doesn’t mean that it won’t or that it can’t, but the Bills and fans like us are hoping that it materializes sooner rather than later.
In our second-to-last installment of our “90 players in 90 days” series, we profile Buffalo’s top defensive tackle.
Name: Ed Oliver
Height/Weight: 6’1” 287 lbs
Age: 23 (24 on 12/12/2021)
Experience/Draft: 3; selected by the Bills in the first round (No. 9 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft
Acquired: First-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Oliver enters the third year of his rookie contract, a four-year pact worth a total of $19,565,156. For the 2021 season, Oliver carries a salary cap hit of $5,345,951, and the Bills are on the hook for a dead-cap charge of $11,561,229 if he is released or traded. By next May, the Bills will need to decide whether they’ll exercise the fifth-year option on Oliver’s rookie contract.
2020 Recap: Oliver played more snaps (578; 53.97 percent) on defense than any other defensive tackle, and he played more snaps along the defensive line overall than any player other than Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison. Thanks to Star Lotulelei’s opt-out, Oliver was forced to play as Buffalo’s one-tech more often than they’d have liked for him to have played. As a result, his numbers weren’t terribly impressive. Oliver totaled 33 tackles, six tackles-for-loss (TFLs), six quarterback hits, three sacks, one forced fumble, and three pass breakups on the year. In the playoffs, Oliver had eight tackles and one TFL.
Positional outlook: Oliver is rejoined by Lotulelei along the interior, and Harrison Phillips, Vernon Butler, and Justin Zimmer return from last year’s group, as well. Brandin Bryant and Treyvon Hester are the other two defensive tackles on the roster. The team released Eli Ankou last week.
2021 Offseason: Oliver is healthy and he has participated in all offseason work to date. He started the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, but only played on 13 defensive snaps and did not register any statistics.
2021 Season outlook: Oliver is set to play plenty of snaps again for the Bills, this time as the three-tech next to a big space-eater in Lotulelei. However, given the depth Buffalo has at defensive end, Oliver may cede snaps in obvious passing situations to players like Efe Obada, Greg Rousseau, and Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. This is a big year for Oliver, as he has been a solid, albeit unspectacular, player so far in his early career. Expecting him to be Aaron Donald may be unfair, but it’s not crazy to expect him to be a bigger factor on defense.