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90 Buffalo Bills players in 90 days: DT Ed Oliver

Now with a big extension in hand, can Oliver’s disruptive potential be unlocked on a consistent basis this year?

NFL: Buffalo Bills Training Camp Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have relied upon a heavy dose of rotation along the defensive line since head coach Sean McDermott arrived in 2017. While that may take the best players on the depth chart off the field for longer periods of time than other teams, it also keeps those players fresh for the fourth quarter — and for late in the season.

While the Bills have built plenty of depth along the defensive line, like any team, they are reliant upon their best players to make things happen. In our latest installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss Buffalo’s best three-tech defensive lineman — a young player looking to dominate consistently in 2023.

Name: Ed Oliver

Number: 91

Position: DT

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 287 pounds

Age: 25 (26 on 12/12/2023)

Experience/Draft: 5; selected by the Bills in the first round (No. 9 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft

College: Houston

Acquired: First-round draft choice

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Oliver signed a shiny new contract this offseason, a four-year pact worth a total of $68 million with $45.278 million in guarantees. That contract doesn’t officially kick in until next year, however, so Oliver’s cap hit for 2023 is a manageable $4.978 million.

2022 Recap: In a season filled with injuries for the Bills, Oliver was the first domino to fall. He hurt his ankle early in Buffalo’s season-opening victory over the Los Angeles Rams, managing just 17 snaps on defense in the win. He missed the next three games due to the injury, and he was a little slow to return to form. That’s not entirely unexpected, as a defensive lineman’s legs are essential to his ability to win at the line of scrimmage, and it’s awfully hard to anchor one’s position — and explode through a 325-pound human — when one of your ankles isn’t quite right.

Oliver eventually rounded into form, and his finest moment of the season came on Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions. He had six tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one safety in the Bills’ 28-25 win, earning Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process.

Oliver played 13 games in the regular season, finishing with 34 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, three pass knockdowns, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery over 527 snaps. That snap total was a career-low, but the number of quarterback hits tied a career-high. In Buffalo’s two playoff games, Oliver played 106 total snaps, notching four tackles, three quarterback hits, one sack, and one tackle for loss.

Positional outlook: Oliver is one of nine defensive tackles on the current roster, joining Eli Ankou, Cortez Broughton, DJ Dale, Poona Ford, Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones, Jordan Phillips, and Kendal Vickers.

2023 Offseason: Oliver has participated in individual drills at times lately, but he hasn’t been involved in team drills in some time. He was spotted at the “Return of the Blue and Red” scrimmage in the medical tent, and he has also been seen wearing a wrap on his leg that indicates a groin issue, but he did not participate in the scrimmage.

2023 Season outlook: A healthy Ed Oliver makes Buffalo’s defensive line a whole lot better. Especially given the depth along the edge, if Oliver can see one-on-one pass-rush opportunities in the middle, he can wreak havoc on opposing offenses. I’m not too worried about him sitting a bit here early in camp, as the reports from the first week were mostly about Oliver’s dominance before he began sitting with this groin issue. Knowing that groin issues can linger, I’m choosing to hope that the team is proactively sitting him at a time where it’s not terribly important in order to allow Oliver to prepare for Week 1 and beyond rather than assuming that the injury is such that he’ll miss substantial time.

We keep waiting for Oliver to have that tremendous, breakout season where he lives up to his draft-day hype, but I think that some of that hype is why some fans and pundits have thought Oliver to be a disappointment so far in his career. It’s a lot for any player to be compared to a generational talent like Aaron Donald, and the sooner we realize that there isn’t anyone like Donald, the better off we’ll be in calibrating our expectations. A 40-tackle, seven-sack season out of Oliver would be outstanding, and if he continues to win his pass-rush matchups at the rate he did last season when he was healthy, he’ll contribute substantially to what should be a loaded Bills defense in 2023.