Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Most of the focus heading into the draft has been centered around the Jets using their top picks to fill needs. However, could they instead stick to a "best player available" philosophy and use their first pick on a player they feel has a chance to be elite, regardless of their position?
In terms of athletic potential, there's few prospects in this class that rival Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver, and he's potentially versatile enough that the Jets might feel good about Gregg Williams finding a role for him within their defense. If the Jets trade down, could Oliver be the top player on their board?
Projected Pick: Top-10
College (career): 192 tackles, 13.5 sacks in three years
Combine: 36-inch vertical, 32 bench press reps
Oliver's hype has really picked up again after a spectacular performance at his pro day. He posted historic speed, explosiveness and agility numbers for a defensive tackle and, in fact, these numbers were superior to most edge rushers and even some top skill position players. That came after he'd already dispelled concerns that, as an undersized defensive tackle, strength could be an issue. He quelled those concerns with an impressive bench press at the combine.
While he was used on the interior in college, these numbers have many experts speculating as to whether he could convert to an edge rusher role or at least be the kind of player who is able to play all over the defensive line depending on situations and packages.
The Cougars mostly used Oliver as a nose tackle and rarely ever gave him any reps on the edge, so he had to deal with constant double-teams, which needs to be taken into account when evaluating his production levels. Even so, he was fourth in the nation in terms of tackles for loss during his freshman season and averaged 64 tackles and 4.5 sacks per season for his collegiate career -- impressive numbers for a nose tackle.
Oliver's success is built around his athletic ability as he's too quick for most interior lineman and explosive enough to shoot gaps and then change direction to get to the ball carrier. It's a style of play that has seen some people making comparisons to all-pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who is a similar size.
The main concern surrounding Oliver is that he's going to be too undersized to play the same role he did with Houston at the NFL level. Scouts will have to try and decide whether they believe his athletic ability can be harnessed to make him effective on the edge or in a similar disruptive interior role to the one Donald plays with the Rams.
Some may also be concerned over his durability, after he missed a handful of games due to knee issues in 2018.
Another concern is his production, which was lower last year than in his first two seasons. Of course, the injury was a factor in that, along with the fact that offensive coaches were no doubt scheming ways to mitigate his influence.
Perhaps more important than all of this is the fact that Oliver tends to win with raw athleticism and can be taken advantage of in the trenches because he doesn't use his hands well and can struggle to maintain his balance if his man gains a leverage advantage on him. While some coaches will feel confident that he'll be really good if they can coach him up, the concern would be how long this might take and if he'll ever be good enough technically to be truly dominant in the pros.
Prior to the 2018 season, Oliver was projected by many draft experts as a potential top three pick. His injury-plagued junior campaign, along with the rise of Quinnen Williams, has seen his star fade somewhat. His incredible pro day numbers have led to a renewed interest in his potential, which may have some analysts skeptical that he's nothing more than a workout warrior. However, he does have an impressive on-field body of work.
This is a risky pick, though. Aside from the durability concerns, Oliver may struggle to shed that "tweener" tag that will frighten some teams off. Many defensive masterminds might feel confident they can find ways to make him a productive player, but front offices could be reluctant to pull the trigger on a player who hasn't necessarily established an NFL position for himself. While Oliver's upside might be elite, can a team like the Jets afford to wait for him to develop to his full potential?