By Justin Byers | @Justin_A_Byers
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — A year ago, Ed Oliver, the 2017 Outland Trophy winner from the University of Houston, was the anticipated number one overall pick of the 2018 National Football League Draft. Now, Oliver is not a clear-cut favorite to be a top pick.
“People have me up and down,” Oliver said Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “At one point I was ranked number one. I never got into that, and I’ve been ranked as low as not even in the first round.”
The journey for Oliver to the NFL has been interesting, to say the least. Oliver, a native of Houston was a highly-touted prospect coming out of Westfield High School. During his prep career, Oliver was a five-star recruit. Oliver’s success in high school immediately carried over to his collegiate career.
After tremendous freshmen and sophomore seasons for Houston, Oliver regressed in his third year with the Cougars. In his first two seasons for Houston, Oliver averaged 46.5 solo tackles, five sacks and 19 tackles for loss. In 2018, his production took a slight dive. The defensive tackle compiled 29 solo tackles, three sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. The circumstances that Oliver faced in his last year in Houston can prove why the former potential number one overall pick has lost some steam.
The emergence of talents such as Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner and Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, the 2018 Outland Trophy winner, can explain why Oliver hasn’t received the same level of attention. The added scrutiny from the season raised questions about Oliver’s worth as a top pick.
According to the University of Houston’s football website, Oliver was listed at 6 feet, 3 inches and 292 pounds. This week, Oliver officially measured in at 6-1 and 287 pounds.
There has been debate as to whether Oliver is a defensive lineman or should be considered a linebacker, an idea that Oliver embraces. “I’d ask me to play linebacker, too,” he said. “If a team pays me to play linebacker, I’ll play linebacker.”
The first-team All-American suffered a bruised right knee against Navy seven weeks into the season. Oliver missed four games, returning for the Cougars’ regular-season finale against Memphis, only to play one half due to discomfort. Oliver’s inability to be on the field during the four-game span decreased his ability to build on his resume as a Cougar.
An incident between Oliver and former Houston head coach Major Applewhite ignited more scrutiny.
During a game between Houston and Tulane, Oliver, who was sidelined due to injury, engaged in a verbal altercation with his head coach over a parka he was wearing. The altercation went viral and became a hot topic of discussion on social media. According to Applewhite, Oliver did not have the authority to wear the parka due to him being inactive.
Unable to speak for himself at the time of the incident, Oliver used this week’s Combine to silence the critics who have questioned his physical characteristics and character. “I had no complaints when I played there,” Oliver said of his experience at Houston. “I loved the position that I played there. I feel I made the best out of what I was given.”
Given his dynamic game film and unique athleticism, Oliver can most certainly regain the favor of NFL scouting departments across the league. Oliver’s ability remains unquestioned. He will attempt to use the combine and his Pro Day at Houston to make a case for himself as the best prospect available.