Rare speed; extremely fast interior defensive lineman
Can take over games
Closes on quarterbacks in a hurry
Natural pad level
Skilled at shedding blocks
Good pursuit run defender
Plays with good leverage
Upside; could get better with experience
Struggles in downhill run defense
Weak lateral anchor
Houston staff sais 285-290 pounds is too heavy for him
Summary: Without ever playing a snap, Oliver made college football history. He became the first five-star recruit in history to chose a school that was not in a power-five conference. Many were surprised that the Houston native did not go with a local recruiting power house like Texas A&M, Texas or Oklahoma. Even though Oliver did not go to a Big XII school, that power-five conference immediately saw what it had missed out on when Oliver dominated Oklahoma in his first game as a true freshman. That game set the tone for a tremendous freshman year in which he totaled 66 tackles with 22.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles and nine passes batted.
In 2017, Oliver recorded 73 tackles with 16.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, three passes batted and two forced fumbles. Even with teams selling out to stop him, they struggled to slow him down, and he continued to live in the backfield of the opposition. As a junior, Oliver totaled 54 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and two passes batted. He missed four games with a knee injury and chose to skip Houston's bowl game to protect himself from injury and start preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Oliver is an impactful interior pass-rusher with a rare ability to harass the quarterback as an inside rusher. His pass-rush potential is very hard to find, and that makes him a beloved prospect across the scouting community. Oliver is extremely fast at the point off attack. He explodes out of his stance and immediately achieves penetration into the backfield. On top of his speed and tremendous pad level, Oliver has active hands to slap away blockers' hands. He also can bend and has the agility to redirect to the quarterback. Oliver has rare explosive speed off the ball and constantly lives in the backfield.
It is common to say that a defensive tackle has a burst to close or gets upfield quickly, but is very rare to say that a defensive tackle has excellent pursuit skills. However, Oliver is that rare kind of defender with the way he flies to the ball. He demonstrates a relentless style of play to chase down ball-carriers away from the tackle box, and his rare speed allows him to make plays that others can only dream about. Of course ,Oliver has superb closing speed given his explosiveness off the snap. Oliver has good instincts and recognition skills that put him in position to make a lot of plays as well. His intelligence and instincts also lead to him batting a lot of passes for a defensive tackle.
Oliver plays hard as a run defender. He is at his best when firing into the backfield to blow up runs behind the line of scrimmage. His tackles for a loss total is no fluke. The problems that Oliver has in the ground game are being undersized and holding up against downhill runs coming straight at him. He does not have a strong lateral anchor and can get covered up in the ground game. Oliver's lateral anchor is going to be problematic in the NFL, and he should not be played as a nose tackle. Double teams also can give him problems.
Sources say that as a junior, Oliver was weighing in at 275 pounds during the fall and played as heavy as 282 pounds. The Houston staff believed that 285-290 pounds was too heavy for Oliver. At the combine though, he weighted in at 287, so it will be interesting to see if he remains at that weight for NFL games and how that impacts his quickness and athleticism. Even at 287, he is undersized for the NFL and really is the size of a designated pass-rusher - DPR - defensive tackle. In speaking to team contacts, they feel the scheme limitations are something to be considered with Oliver.
"My issues are, one, it is scheme specific that he has to go to the right team and used in a particular way," said an area scout. "If he were to go to a 3-4 scheme with two awesome ends like Pittsburgh with [Cameron] Heyward on one side and [Stephon] Tuitt on the other, that could work because it would allow him to get off. Or Houston between Watt and Clowney, but that is a tough situation to find.
I graded Oliver as a late [first-rounder] but I think someone will take him in the mid-first [round]. I would bet a paycheck that he does not go No. 1 overall. There is no way. There are too many potential issues."
In speaking to some other team sources, they agreed about Oliver not going at the top of the first round. The range from surveying sources was the middle of the top 10 to the middle of the first round. Still, they all were enthusiastic about Oliver's NFL potential and thought he was worthy of going early in Round 1.
Player Comparison: Dominique Easley. The media have jumped all over themselves comparing Oliver to Aaron Donald, but team sources think that comparison is flawed. Sources say that Oliver is not Donald, and that such a comparison is off because Oliver doesn't have nearly the same strength as Donald. Donald has great strength, while Oliver lacks it. Sources say Oliver is a lot lighter than Donald, and as a result they are different players.
"He is not the same guy as Donald," said one source. "He is more comparable to a Dominique Easley. [Oliver is] disruptive, twitchy, and can do a lot of positive things, so that is why people are eager to compare him to Donald because they both have surprising speed. But Oliver is not Donald. Donald is extremely strong, and you could see that at the Senior Bowl when he was tossing guys around. Oliver has issues with mass and problems with double teams that Donald does not. [Oliver's] lateral anchor is a problem."
Easley was an explosive and undersized defensive tackle coming out of Florida. Off-the-field issues have held him back in his career, but entering the NFL, Easley (6-2, 270) was a fast interior rusher with excellent athleticism but lacking size. Oliver has similar size and skill set to Easley.
NFL Matches: Oakland, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, Detroit, Buffalo, Miami, Atlanta, Minnesota, Tennessee
Interior pass-rushers are hard to find, so there should be a lot of teams hoping to land Oliver in the top 20. The Raiders are hosting Oliver on a pre-draft visit, so he could be a candidate for them if they were to trade down. Oakland would prefer an edge rusher to a tackle, so Oliver may not be a top candidate for the organization.
Tampa Bay could consider Oliver with the fifth selection. Gerald McCoy may not be with Buccaneers for much longer, and Oliver could be the replacement.
The Giants could use a disruptor at the point of attack, so Oliver could be a candidate for them.
Detroit needs a three-technique disrupting pass-rusher and could be interested in Oliver with the eighth pick.
In the AFC East, the Bills could use a young interior disruptor for their scheme, and Oliver could give them a needed interior pass-rusher. Miami needs to replace Ndamukong Such, and Oliver could form a nice tandem with Charles Harris.
Atlanta needs more talent on the defensive line and could consider Oliver to go with Grady Jarrett, although that would be a very undersized front.
Minnesota also could consider a three-technique since Sharrif Floyd was forced into early retirement and Sheldon Richardson was lost in free agency. Tennessee could also consider Oliver due to needing more talent at the point of attack.