With the NFL Draft less than a month away, we're starting to see more and more that certain players look like they could potentially be top-10 selections on April 25th. Houston’s Ed Oliver and Michigan’s Rashan Gary always are mentioned early in Mock Drafts. Will they in fact really get picked that high? I don’t have a crystal ball to look that far in the future, but I would say the odds are pretty good that they do in fact go early. The question, though, that should be asked is are these players going to play up to the level of top-10 selections?
When looking at both Gary and Oliver on tape, we see superb athletes who should dominate the college game. The problem in both cases is they flash big playmaking ability and dominance, but there are far too many plays in which they do little or nothing.
Great players tend to dominate all the time. I remember scouting Aaron Donald on tape when he was at Pitt, and down after down he refused to be blocked and played at a consistently high energy level.
Gary played defensive end at Michigan — and that’s where he wants to play in the NFL. Looking at his testing numbers, he should be able to play on the edge. He measured 6’4 – 277, ran a 4.58 in the 40, posted a 38” vertical jump, a 10’ long jump and his agility drills were among the best of all the defensive linemen. He also did 26 reps of 225 pounds, which means his max in the bench press could be more than 400 pounds. What is there not to like? He is a great athlete, to say the least.
But watching Gary's tape after knowing those testing numbers is a disappointment. He seldom plays to those numbers. A player with that rare athleticism should be a dominant pass rusher. Gary had only 3.5 sacks in 2018 and six the previous year. Nick Bosa only played in three games this past season and had four sacks. Josh Allen had 17 and Montez Sweat had 11.5. Why is there such a disparity?
One of the reasons is that, as good an athlete as Gary is, he's lacking in competitive nature. He picks and chooses his plays — and when he wants to make a play he can’t be blocked. That said, there are several plays when he is easily blocked and shows no hustle. He is just a guy on the field. In my opinion, that is a red flag. In every game and on every play he should be the best player on the field because of his natural physical traits.
Gary wants to be an outside player, and he tests like an outside player, but several friends of mine who work in the league and I feel he isn’t an edge but an inside player. As a 3-tech in a 4-man front or a 5-tech in a 3-4, he could become a more dominant player than he will be playing outside. At his present weight of 277 pounds, Gary is too light, but there is no question he can get to 285. Regardless of where he plays or where he gets drafted, Gary has to pick up his intensity level and play to his talent level. We only saw glimpses of that in college, and that won’t work in the NFL.
With Oliver, it is a similar story. He is a great athlete but has yet to show he is a great player. Yes, in his first two seasons at Houston he played better football than he did in 2018. This past season his play reminded me of Jadeveon Clowney in his final season at South Carolina.
Clowney was playing not to get hurt and just going through the motions, and it showed on the stat sheet. Oliver played the same way in 2018, when his statistical numbers were down in every category.
As a raw freshman in 2016, Oliver logged five sacks and 23 tackles for loss. As an experienced junior, those numbers dropped to three sacks and only 14.5 tackles for loss. Shouldn’t they be going the other way?
Watching tape was a disappointment, as there were times he was knocked off the ball and didn’t come close to making plays. His down-after-down effort level was poor. The coaches saw what was happening and were disappointed. There was an obvious disconnect between Oliver and the coaching staff by the end of the season.
Oliver has been compared to Aaron Donald because of the size and athletic similarities — and that is a good comparison — but as competitors, it’s not close.
During the season, many evaluators worried about Oliver’s size. He was listed as being 290-plus pounds, but when put on the scale he weighed in the low 270s. A 6’2 – 273 inside defensive lineman is not what every team is looking for.
At the Combine, Oliver wanted to show he was actually bigger and weighed in at 287, but he didn’t run at that weight, only doing the vertical and standing long jump, which, in fairness, were outstanding. His vert was 36” and the standing long jump was an even 10 feet.
At the UH pro day Friday, Oliver weighed 281 pounds — much closer to his playing weight — and finally ran, with reports that he was clocked between 4.71 and 4.75 in the 40. A scout who was there gave me a time of 4.77, which is still very good. There was a report that he ran the 20- yard shuttle in 4.18, which may have been the time on one watch, but I have been told most watches had him slower— closer to 4.27. Timing that fast in the 20-yard shuttle is rare for a defensive lineman and shows Oliver's rare athleticism.
I was also told that as good as Oliver timed, he did not seem in top shape and easily got winded when doing drills. We can look at that in different ways. From a positive point of view, if he tested that well when not in top condition, what can he do when he is in top shape? The negative view is why wasn’t he in great shape for his best chance to impress scouts and decision makers?
I don’t know where Oliver gets drafted — and I really don’t care. What does matter is once he gets to the NFL, he has to play to the level of his natural talent or he will be deemed a bust. It’s very simple. I think many teams look at Oliver differently as far as where to play him. Is he a small inside player with speed, quickness and explosiveness (like a Donald) or a short outside player with short arms (31 ¾”)?
The fact is, very few short-armed players excel as outside pass rushers. Playing inside is a different story. I think Oliver will end up being a 3-tech for a 4-3 club, but how well he plays remains to be seen. There is no question he has to pick up the intensity level quite a bit.