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Buffalo’s top 2019 draft choice is poised for a breakout this year
The Buffalo Bills have the league’s most expensive defensive line for 2020, and it’s arguably one of the league’s best as well. With ten players who have a legitimate chance at making the roster, the Bills boast an amount of depth that is almost unheard of around the league.
Part of this is due to free-agent signings by general manager Brandon Beane, but the team has also added some solid prospects through the NFL Draft. Of Buffalo’s top ten defensive linemen, three were drafted by Beane and head coach Sean McDermott over the course of the last three years. Only one of those players was a first-round pick, however.
In today’s edition of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile that first-round choice—a player with big potential who made news this offseason for the wrong reasons.
Name: Ed Oliver
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 287 lbs.
Age: 22 (23 on 12/12/2020)
Experience/Draft: 2; selected by Buffalo in the first round (No. 9 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft
Acquired: First-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Oliver enters the second year of his fully guaranteed rookie contract, a pact which totals $19,565,156. For the 2020 season, Oliver carries a cap hit of $4,451,626.
2019 Recap: Oliver topped all Bills interior defensive linemen in snaps last season, playing 556 total defensive snaps, good for 54% of the team’s total on the season. He started the team’s first seven games, but with the emergence of veteran Jordan Phillips, Oliver was relegated to a backup role starting with the team’s Week 9 victory over Washington. In those seven starts, Oliver managed 18 tackles, one tackle for a loss, four quarterback hits, and one sack. He had two tackles against Washington, but he did not register any official statistics the following week, a 19-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. In those two games, Oliver played his lowest snap totals of the season, appearing on only one-third of Buffalo’s defensive snaps in each contest. From that point on, Oliver played much better, finishing the year by making 23 tackles, four sacks, four tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits, and one forced fumble over Buffalo’s final seven games. For the season, Oliver totaled 43 tackles, five tackles for a loss, five sacks, eight quarterback hits, two pass breakups, and one forced fumble.
Positional outlook: With Phillips gone, Oliver stands to be the top option as the three-tech defensive tackle, although even that isn’t certain. The Bills added Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson via free agency, and while each have experience playing elsewhere along the defensive line (Butler at one-tech and Jefferson at left defensive end), they each have the skills to play Oliver’s spot. Vincent Taylor, Harrison Phillips, and Star Lotulelei are Buffalo’s other defensive tackles, though they are all one-tech players.
2020 Offseason: It was a newsworthy one for Oliver, and not in a good way, as he was arrested and charged with DWI and unlawful possession of a weapon in May. Oliver was pulled over for doing 80 mph while swerving in and out of traffic and towing a trailer in a 45 mph zone. He failed field sobriety tests, admitted to drinking and taking Adderall prior to driving, and had an open beer can in his driver’s side door.
2020 Season outlook: Barring some unforeseen fallout from his arrest, Oliver should be ready to go for the duration of the 2020 season. If the Bills or the NFL move to suspend him this year, Oliver could miss anywhere from two to six games, though as a first-time offender I would anticipate it being closer to the former than the latter. I also don’t think that punishment will come this season, as it’s more likely that the league will allow the matter to play out in the courtroom before making a decision on punishment. Oliver showed great promise as a rookie, and in the second half of the season, he looked more like the disruptive monster that Buffalo assumed they were drafting ninth overall than he did early in the 2019 season. In year two, I expect that Oliver will make huge strides towards becoming one of the elite defensive tackles in the league.