NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2018. This is the third in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason. Click through the tabs below to see all of them.
It's not easy to become a household name among college football fans when you're a defensive lineman playing for a team outside the power five conferences. However, that is exactly what Houston DT Ed Oliver has done over the past two seasons, consistently dominating opposing offenses and creating numerous "wow" highlight plays in the process. He has already announced his intention to enter the NFL draft following his junior season, and I couldn't wait to study him for our First Look series.
Ed Oliver, junior defensive tackle, Houston
Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 290 pounds (school measurements).
2017 statistics: 73 tackles, 16.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 passes defensed.
Game tape watched: Arizona (Sept. 9), Temple (Sept. 30), Fresno State (Dec. 24).
What I liked: There are three main things about Oliver that stand out: his quickness, instincts and effort. Against the run, he explodes out of his stance to shoot gaps and generate negative plays. He has excellent block awareness, and he refuses to get reached/sealed. He is able to resist pressure on down blocks and spin off to record tackles. When he's not slanting in gaps, he displays the power to knock back interior linemen, separate from the block and pursue the ball. His range and effort are off the charts. He collects plenty of tackles on the perimeter because of his ability to quickly locate the ball and explode to the sideline.
As a pass rusher, he has an explosive 6-inch punch to jar blockers before separating and closing to the quarterback. He is also very effective on twists and pass-rush games. He does lack a variety of moves, but his energy and effort never wane, despite the high number of snaps he plays in this defense.
Where he needs to improve: The two major concerns are the lack of ideal size (that school listing of 6-foot-3 appears quite generous) and polish as a pass rusher. The lack of size doesn't show up very often, but there are occasions where interior offensive linemen lock him up and control him at the point of attack. As a pass rusher, he wins plenty of battles with pure quickness and effort, but he needs to continue to develop a game plan to combat the better competition he'll face at the next level. He suffered a knee injury in the Temple game I studied, and he was limited in the following four games. However, I don't have concerns about his durability.
Biggest takeaway: I think every defensive-line coach in the country should make a cut-up tape highlighting the effort from Oliver. He never quits on a play. Ever. It is a great lesson for every player at the position. He chases plays 30-40 yards down the field, and then he lines up and goes 100 mph on the very next play. It's a great indicator of the work he puts in during the offseason, as well as the personal drive he possesses. I was told by one of his former teammates that the coaching staff at Houston hands out an effort award after studying the game tape, and Oliver wins that award almost every week.
He reminds me of: I hate comparing college players to elite NFL players, but sometimes it just makes sense to do so. Oliver is very similar to Aaron Donald when he was coming out of Pittsburgh. Both guys use a lack of ideal size to their advantage by consistently winning with quickness. There were some questions about which position Donald would play at the next level. Some thought he would end up as a 3-4 outside linebacker, while some other teams actually believed he might be best suited as an off-the-ball inside linebacker. Of course, the Rams were wise to let him continue to play with his hand on the ground. I see the same future for Oliver. He is going to be a very disruptive force at the next level.
Can't wait to see him play: Arizona on Sept. 8. The Wildcats offense should be one of the most prolific in the country. Arizona QB Khalil Tate is a legitimate Heisman contender, and he's a perfect fit for new head coach Kevin Sumlin. It will be fun to watch Oliver chase plays from sideline to sideline as well as generate pressure against the pass. The Cougars squeaked out a close win over the Wildcats last fall, but Tate wasn't the full-time quarterback at that point in the season. This will be a big challenge for Oliver and his fellow defensive players.