The last time the Buffalo Bills picked in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft they selected defensive tackle Ed Oliver. The former University of Houston defensive lineman had all the physical tools to make him a disruptive force on the interior of the defensive line.
Recently Adam Schein of NFL.com compiled a list of the players who were entering make-or-break seasons this coming year. The Bills starting defensive tackle made the list and Schien wrote:
"I’m not giving up on Oliver, but he took a step back in 2020 after a solid rookie season. And the Bills need the No. 9 overall pick from the 2019 draft to take a gigantic step forward in 2021.As proven by last year’s 13-3 regular season and ensuing trip to the AFC title game, the Bills are legit. They are ready for prime time. But they need Oliver to become the monster he’s capable of being, the kind of game wrecker up front who can disrupt someone like Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs."
There is no question that fans were hoping for more stats and impact plays from Oliver over his first two seasons. There aren’t many who would have been happy with only eight sacks at this point in his career.
However, there were certain circumstances that played a role in the perceived down year from Ed Oliver this past season. It started with Star Lotulelei electing to opt-out of the 2020 season due to the pandemic. While Lotulelei doesn’t generate big stats, he is an important player next to Oliver as he commands more blockers which helps Oliver secure more one-on-one matchups.
The Buffalo Bills unfortunately didn’t have a great replacement for their starting one-tech defensive tackle. Early in the season, the most logical replacement, Harrison Phillips, was struggling and the coaching staff started to move Oliver into that role as an anchor and more of a player to clog running lanes and less getting after the quarterback.
When considering the role change he was asked to make, Oliver did a pretty good job and it might be unfair to say he took a step backward. This isn’t to say that this season isn’t important though as the Buffalo Bills would like to see more from Oliver this season.
The franchise will have to make a decision after this year about whether or not to pick up his fifth-year option or begin discussions on a long-term deal, and a breakout year would go a long way in addressing some hesitancy.