Ed Oliver has been the talk of the Falcons’ preliminary draft process. At the moment, he looks to be the Falcons “ideal” pick if he were to fall to Atlanta at #14, and rumors suggest the Falcons might even be willing to move up and select the defensive tackle out of Houston. However, many times there is a lot more smoke than fire in rumors prior to the draft, and Rashan Gary is a very similar player out of Michigan who could be available if Oliver is not.
Like Oliver, Gary made a mockery of the NFL Combine, doing things that should not be possible for a 280+ pound man. He ran a 4.58 40-yard dash with a 38-inch vertical. As NFL.com puts it, Gary has a “freaky triangle of height, weight, and speed”, which makes him a lock to go in the first-round. Where the Michigan product differs from Oliver is his production on the field.
A five-star prospect coming out of high school, Gary failed to live up to the hype in college. There were flashes of why he was so highly-touted, but he only racked up 23 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in his three-year career for the Wolverines. What scouts will be scrambling to figure out is why that was, and can they find a way to make the most of his outstanding physical attributes.
Under the right coach, it’s not only possible but likely Gary can make the transition to the NFL and be a standout pro, as long as his work ethic and mind are in the right place; which will have to be determined through the interview process.
At 6’4″, 280 pounds, Gary played primarily defensive end while at Michigan. He’s athletic enough to play the position, giving him some added versatility at the next level, but he’s best served moving to a full-time defensive tackle role in the NFL. That was part of the justification for his lack of production – the other being his non-existent secondary pass rushing moves.
Gary’s hands are both his best friend and worst enemy. He’s explosive off the line, strictly using a bull rush against his opponents. The power in his punch is often enough to force offensive lineman off-balance at initial contact, but then Gary doesn’t know what to do with his hands to finish off the play. Once Gary develops those secondary moves, he’s going to be miserable to block for anybody, especially at his more natural defensive tackle position.
There are not many more heralded defensive line coaches than Dan Quinn. Although, it might be challenging for Falcons’ fans to believe that considering the way Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley have panned out thus far. Gary would benefit tremendously from having Quinn as his head coach and defensive coordinator, but the Falcons may feel pressured to take a more NFL-ready talent, rather than risking another season on a defensive lineman that may not live up to his potential.
Oliver has been the talk of many Falcons’ mock drafts and even trade-up scenarios. The former Houston Cougar was a rare defender on the preseason Heisman watch in 2018 after winning the Outland Trophy (an award given to the best interior defensive lineman) as a sophomore. Unfortunately, injuries derailed any Heisman talk from coming to fruition, but Oliver still solidified himself among the best interior defenders in a loaded draft class.
As expected, Oliver was a combine warrior. He benched 225 – 32 times – and recorded a 36-inch vertical leap. At his Pro-Day, he ran an unofficial 40-yard dash of 4.73. Keep in mind, Oliver weighs 290 pounds. Athletically, he’s a freak of nature, and the production is there to match, but his lightweight competition also has to be taken into consideration.
Oliver’s athletic skill set is apparent all over his tape. This athleticism allows him to excel in multiple facets of the game. He can rush the passer, clog up running lanes, cover sideline to sideline, and even make plays with his hands when he isn’t successful rushing the passer by tipping balls at the line of scrimmage. His quickness off the ball alone is sometimes enough to shed would-be blockers.
His main hurdle at the next level is going to be overcoming his size (or lack of it). Playing against Rice and Eastern Carolina can make a lot of NFL prospects look like world-beaters. That’s not anywhere near the type of size and strength Oliver will see at the next level, but I’m not sold his lighter build will hamstring him as much as some scouts believe.
Against the competition he faced, Oliver was unblockable on running downs. Even when lineman gave him their best lick, Oliver’s strength allowed him to maintain his ground and move towards the ball carrier. His 32 reps on the bench press show just how strong he is, and that is going to translate fine in the NFL, even against bigger and stronger lineman.
What will make Oliver the special player he is capable of becoming is his development as a pass rusher. A lot like Gary, Oliver needs to improve upon his secondary pass rushing moves and do a better job with his hands, but it’s difficult to gauge how dominant he might have been if he wasn’t constantly double-teamed.
The hype around Ed Oliver from the Falcons’ faithful is understandable. Lining up a talent like him next to Grady Jarrett would make everything easier for the entire defense. I would still feel more comfortable with a defensive tackle like Christian Wilkins because we’ve seen him obliterate elite competition, but the upside with Oliver is off the charts. I’m not sure that he will be there when the Falcons select, and I’m not a supporter of moving up given the Falcons plethora of needs across the board, but if it comes down to Ed Oliver or Rashan Gary, it’s Oliver by a healthy margin.