When the Buffalo Bills signed defensive tackle Ed Oliver to a four year, 68-million extension on June 3, it wasn’t a move met with universal praise. While his lingering ankle injury was a contributing factor to a 2022 season that didn’t meet the expectations some would have of a former top-ten pick, Ryan O’Halloran of The Buffalo News spoke for many when he called the extension’s timing a “head-scratcher.” Oliver himself recognized some of the backlash, saying he wanted to “shut everybody up who said (he) was overpaid.”
So far in 2023, Oliver has lived up to the contract. And now the Bills might need him to outplay it.
The losses of defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and linebacker Matt Milano have left the Bills hurting in the middle of their defense. Jones, Oliver’s running mate on the defensive line, was having a career year. He was number one in Pass Rush Productivity (a formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries relative to how many times they rush the passer) among defensive tackles per Pro Football Focus. In a contract season, Jones was among the best players at his position in football. Matt Milano is an All-Pro caliber player and had solidified himself as the best player on Buffalo’s defense.
But Ed Oliver has also seen his game ascend.
Oliver is sixth in the NFL among interior defensive linemen in the same pass rushing productivity metric as mentioned above in reference to DaQuan Jones. He has 16 pressures and five sacks so far this year, after totaling 37 pressures and five sacks during the entire 2022 regular season and postseason combined. He’s only had one game this season where he’s missed a tackle. Even more encouraging: his second-most-productive pass-rushing game of the season (four pressures, one sack) was the affair against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when the Bills lost Jones to a torn pectoral muscle.
Buffalo is getting reinforcements back on defense in the form of pass rusher Von Miller, who played limited snaps against the Jaguars in London and should see his workload ramp up when he’s not playing on a surface he described as “the worst turf (he’d) played on”. But Miller’s addition alone won’t be enough to counteract the Bills losing three defensive stalwarts in two weeks (cornerback Tre’Davious White tore his Achilles the week before Milano and DaQuan Jones were hurt). Ed Oliver will need to continue playing like the star the Bills thought they were getting when they selected him at ninth overall out of the University of Houston in 2019.
So far in 2023, Ed Oliver has, and he’s on his way to completing his stated goal of shutting up everybody who thought he was overpaid. If Oliver’s level of play continues and helps carry this defense in the absence of other studs, I’m not sure anyone will say a word.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!