• Seb Kennedy

Draft Pick Pay-Offs #9

Each and every year as the first round of the NFL draft progresses, the franchises’ front offices making their respective selections have increasingly less in the way of top-tier talent to choose from; the supposed bona fide superstars are, for the most part, already off the board by number five. But that’s not to say that the ninth overall pick doesn’t hold any value in comparison. In fact, names such as Bruce Matthews and Brian Urlacher have been selected at the nine spot in years past. From all-time greats to baffling busts, the ninth overall pick has produced a whole manner of different players enjoying incredibly varied degrees of success in the NFL — a reality no different to how these particular selections between 2010 and 2019 turned out. This article will assess whether each of the last decade’s ninth overall picks proved to be an unequivocal slam dunk, or an embarrassing air ball. And don’t worry, there are plenty of bricks in this list too.



2010 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - C. J. Spiller, Running Back, Clemson (Selected By Buffalo Bills)


Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

A member of the All-Unfortunate Name Team alongside kicker Chris Blewitt and quarterback David Fales, C. J. Spiller was — as his surname suggests — prone to a fumble or two during his time in the NFL to say the least. The running back rushed his way into the Clemson history books by compiling nearly 5,000 yards and over 40 touchdowns from scrimmage in orange and regalia, which saw the Tigers retire his number 28 (just the third football player in school history to receive the honour) as well as Spiller earn a whole host of further accolades. Being named to the All-ACC first-team in both 2008 and 2009, earning unanimous All-American honours as a senior and winning the conference’s Player of the Year Award in his final year of collegiate eligibility meant that the back boasted first-round pick projection ahead of the 2010 NFL Draft. And following a fantastic showing at the NFL Combine where Spiller spurted to a 4.37-second 40-yard dash, the Tiger was selected with the ninth overall pick by the Buffalo Bills to become the highest drafted Clemson player since Banks McFadden and Gaines Adams (both of whom went fourth overall in 1940 and 2007 respectively). Initially, general manager Buddy Nix was far from vindicated; Buffalo’s newest running back averaged a measly 422 yards on the ground across his first two seasons at Ralph Wilson Stadium for just four total touchdowns — being primarily reserved to special teams. But in 2012 he showed the world exactly why the Bills’ #28 was just like the franchise name suggests – money. Over 1,200 yards rushing at 6.0 yards per carry — totalling 1,703 from scrimmage on the season — earned the Tiger his first ever Pro Bowl appearance from a 16-game campaign that Bills Mafia hoped would now become a regular occurrence over the coming years. Unfortunately, Spiller’s 2012 Pro Bowl nod would prove to be his last. After a 933-yard effort the following year, the running back failed to top 300 yards on the ground in any subsequent season — despite being given the chance in New Orleans, Seattle, New York and Kansas City when his time in Buffalo didn’t surpass the conclusion of his rookie contract. The former-Tiger, that once terrorized opposing defensive coordinators in both college and the AFC East for a short period, now had little roar left in him. Last taking to the field in 2017 on the Chiefs and now no younger than 33 years of age, C. J. Spiller just didn’t perform in the NFL at the level Buffalo was hoping for when they drafted him with the ninth overall pick. However, he’ll always have a place in the hearts of Clemson fans everywhere. This one is — like a lot of players in this article series — another case of a brilliant college player that just couldn’t cut the mustard in the pros. Not representative of a draft pick pay-off, unfortunately.


2011 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle, USC (Selected By Dallas Cowboys)


Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

One of the most tenacious tackles of the last decade, Tyron Smith’s dominance in Dallas since 2011 has been both well-documented and well-rewarded. The California-born baller committed to USC back in 2008 where he spent three successful seasons protecting quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley and grading the road for rushers Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight, Marc Tyler and Allen Bradford — all to great effect. Being named first-team All-Pac-10 as a sophomore and picking up the Morris Trophy the very same year stood Smith in very good stead to say the least, only further improving his draft stock after showing his elite athleticism with an incredible pro day performance that consisted of a 4.93-second 40-yard dash at 307 pounds coupled with 31 reps on the bench press. In a draft class featuring other eventual franchise offensive line talents such as Anthony Castonzo and Nate Solder, Smith was the first tackle off the board as Jerry Jones brought him to Dallas where he would eventually play a significant part in one of the all-time great front fives in recent memory. After an impressive debut-season campaign in 2011 as a member of the PFWA All-Rookie Team and a similarly-successful following year, Smith truly came into his own from his third season in the league onwards. Between 2013 and 2017 — for five straight seasons — the Cowboys’ offensive line finished the regular season as a top-four unit per PFF, ranking first in two of those campaigns where their ever-reliable left tackle was pivotal. For his exceptional road-grading efforts and league-leading protection in the passing game, Smith earned consecutive Pro Bowl appearances throughout the aforementioned period as well as four All-Pro team inclusions too. And while Dallas’ offensive line’s level of play soon began to falter thereafter, the ninth overall pick’s certainly didn’t. Their franchise left tackle once again earned Pro Bowl nods in 2018 and 2019 to make it seven consecutive in the respective feat, as Smith saw himself included in the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. Any top-10 selection that ends up being a reliable road grader on the edge of the front five is representative of a draft pick pay-off, let alone a player who goes on to not only excel in the most important spot on one of the greatest offensive lines in recent history, but stake a claim for future inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The selection of Smith in 2011 was an absolute slam dunk; one of the best personnel decisions Jerry Jones has made in the last 10 years. Dallas deserve credit for this one — the furthest thing from a bust you could ever imagine.


2012 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College (Selected By Carolina Panthers)


Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Another man who’ll be knocking on the door of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Luke Kuechly was one of the most talented players to ever man the middle linebacker spot that we’ve ever seen. Enjoying an incredible pre-pro career at Boston College, the Eagle compiled 532 total tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss, seven interceptions and two touchdowns in a record-breaking three-year effort that saw Kuechly not only go down in school history as one of the greatest players to ever take to the field at Alumni Stadium, but also achieve almost every accolade available at the NCAA level. Three consecutive first-team All-ACC inclusions, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2009, back-to-back consensus All-American honours to go along with the Loft Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award, Butkus Award (college) and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award — all of which the linebacker received following his stellar junior season. As ready a prospect as any ahead of the 2012 NFL Draft, Kuechly decided to forego his final year of collegiate eligibility and prove himself on the biggest stage as soon as possible. With an incredible NFL Combine performance to boot, the defender’s already-extensive résumé and on-field prowess in the ACC saw the Carolina Panthers become the lucky recipients of the game-changing talent as general manager Marty Hurney selected Kuechly with the ninth overall pick — a move that would soon prove to be one of the very greatest in the franchise history. The lethal linebacker hit the ground running at the Bank of America Stadium when notching a career-high 164 total tackles in an effort that earned #59 a well-deserved inclusion in the PFWA All-Rookie Team, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and finishing the season as the NFL tackles leader. Yes, you read that right. Luke Kuechly ended his rookie season as a pro by leading the entire league in tackles by a margin of 16 — at just 21 years of age. What’s more is that the Panther’s prowess had barely begun. A 164-tackle 2013 season earning first-team All-Pro, Pro Bowl and NFL Defensive Player of the Year honours was subsequently followed by a 2014 campaign spent racking up 153 tackles — once again finishing the year as the NFL tackles leader — named first-team All-Pro, Pro Bowler and the Butkus Award winner. A further five years of league-leading play saw Kuechly finish his NFL career with 1,153 total tackles including eight consecutive 100-tackle seasons — every year the linebacker played as a pro — seven All-Pro team inclusions, seven Pro Bowl appearances, two NFL tackle leader titles, three Butkus Awards, one Art Rooney Award and a spot on the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team alongside Chandler Jones, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Bobby Wagner and Patrick Willis. Now a pro scout on the staff of his beloved Carolina Panthers, Luke Kuechly’s influence on the game of football knows no bounds. It might take a while for the linebacker to fully find his feet in the franchise’s scouting department, but one thing that certainly won’t take long is Canton's decision on when Kuechly will receive his gold jacket — because it really is a case of when, not if. Not many other players in this article series are more representative of a draft pick pay-off than this man, and Carolina was fortunate enough to have him on their roster for eight seasons. It’s strange to think that — as a ninth overall pick — eight teams actually passed up on the opportunity to select Kuechly in the 2012 NFL Draft.


2013 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - Dee Milliner, Cornerback, Alabama (Selected By New York Jets)


Joseph E. Amaturo/New York Post

The player handed the almost-impossible task of replacing Darrelle Revis in the New York Jets’ secondary, Dee Milliner had his work cut out for him at MetLife Stadium to say the least. Spending his college days at Alabama under Nick Saban, the cornerback recorded six picks and a touchdown for the Crimson Tide across a three-year pre-pro career that saw Milliner make a tremendous impression, receiving numerous accolades in the process. A National Champion for the 2011 NCAA season as well as a first-team All-SEC member, SEC Champion, unanimous All-American and National Champion again the following year — making it two rings for Milliner in as many seasons. The defensive back declared for the 2013 NFL Draft as a projected high first-round selection. And, after running a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, the corner would see that projection ultimately proven correct as John Idzik — with his first ever pick as Jets’ general manager — brought Milliner to New York by selecting him with the ninth overall pick in a move that would soon turn out to be a familiar franchise regret. The ball hawk’s debut season for Gang Green, despite having three interceptions, saw him miss the cut for the PFWA All-Rookie Team as fellow defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu, Desmond Trufant, Eric Reid and Kenny Vacaro received the nod instead. And the unfortunate thing is that Milliner’s 2013 campaign would ultimately prove to be his very best in the NFL, as the remainder of his pro career turned out to be — in complete contrast with his time at Alabama — both unproductive and undecorated. Persistent injuries and severe lack of on-field impact meant Milliner only started a further two games subsequent to his rookie year, with the Jets’ front office declining his fifth-year option on May 2nd, 2016. Last seeing the field at MetLife Stadium in 2015, the now-29-year-old has been without work for over half a decade now as New York remains in search for their next all-time talent at cornerback. Not a draft pick pay-off in the slightest here unfortunately, though it must be said that the Bama baller was never given a fair shake in the NFL since he spent the majority of his career on the sideline due to injury. This just wasn’t meant to be.



2014 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - Anthony Barr, Linebacker, UCLA (Selected By Minnesota Vikings)


John Autey/Pioneer Press

Drafted to be slotted straight into a linebacker corps alongside franchise great Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr has already enjoyed an incredible career to date as a Minnesota Viking. The four-star college recruit featured all over the field at UCLA at a plethora of positions including running back, wide receiver and tight end before thriving at linebacker as a junior and senior — with his 2012 and 2013 seasons on defense bringing Barr to national attention. A first-team All-Pac-12 member in back-to-back campaigns, the Lott Trophy winner in 2013 and a consensus All-American also in his senior year, Barr was listed as one of the top prospects at his position ahead of the 2014 draft where — on May 8th — he found out his NFL landing spot. The linebacker swapped the sunny beaches of Los Angeles for the extremely cold winters of Minneapolis as Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman selected Barr with the ninth overall pick, where he would soon be vindicated given the college phenom’s ability to translate his immense versatility and on-field prowess to the pro level. After ending his rookie season on injured reserve, the former Bruins baller turned it on in his second year as he set out to prove why eight teams should not have passed up the opportunity to draft him two years prior. Barr proceeded to post four consecutive Pro Bowl seasons between 2015 and 2018, being named second-team All-Pro in his first campaign back from injury and solidified his status as one of the very best linebackers in the league. And of course, prowess of that nature doesn’t go unnoticed. Coming incredibly close to signing a multi-year deal with the New York Jets at the conclusion of his rookie contract, Barr instead decided to remain in Minnesota when putting pen to paper on a five-year, $67.5 million deal that keeps him on the Vikings’ pay roll until 2024. While unable to make it five Pro Bowl appearances in as many seasons in 2019 and playing just two games in 2020 due to suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2, the ninth overall pick remains just as dominant as any linebacker currently playing in the NFL and already possesses a wealth of experience despite being just 28 years of age. Returning to the field this September, don’t rule out Barr having an impressive bounce-back campaign under the tutorage of linebackers coach and now co-defensive coordinator, Adam Zimmer. This was an absolute A+ pick from Rick Spielman, and I’m sure one of the many reasons that owner Zygi Wilf has kept the general manager in the building. A draft pick pay-off for sure.



2015 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - Ereck Flowers, Offensive Tackle, Miami (Selected By New York Giants)


Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

One of the five offensive tackles taken in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Ereck Flowers has already been resigned to league journeyman status at just 26 years old. The Miami-born big man committed to the Canes over offers from Purdue, Florida State and Central Florida where he spent three seasons protecting quarterbacks Stephen Morris and Brad Kaaya at both bookend positions, earning second-team All-ACC honours in his junior year. Deciding to forego his senior season at the college level and thereby expressing his intention to enter the NFL as soon as possible, Flowers declared for the 2015 draft where he was competing with Brandon Scherff, Andrus Peat, Cedric Ogbuehi and D.J. Humphries to be the first tackle taken on the night of April 30th. And after a 37-rep bench press showing at the NFL Combine, the 329-pound road grader became just the second lineman selected as general manager Jerry Reese and the Giants took the tackle with the ninth overall pick with the hope that he would seriously improve New York’s faulty front five. And unfortunately, the addition of Flowers did little to help in the provision of protection for veteran passer Eli Manning. With the Hurricane at the left tackle spot, the Giants’ line remained a below-average unit per PFF for three consecutive seasons with the team’s front office declining the lineman’s fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Starting his 2018 campaign in New York as the less important bookend following the signing of veteran Nate Solder, Flowers found himself being picked up by Jacksonville mid-season after Josh Wells went down, before seeing subsequent stops in both Washington and — rather aptly given his place of birth and pre-pro career — Miami, where he remains on the roster at present. For a prospect as highly regarded as Flowers was coming out of the college ranks, to see him already on his fourth team after just six seasons in the NFL says a lot to how he’s failed to cut the mustard. It seems as though Flowers’ pro career is already pushing up daisies, but at just 26 years of age, there’s still plenty of time for him to turn things around. But this is certainly not a draft pick pay-off for the Giants, nor were his subsequent signings on the Jaguars or the then-named Redskins proven justified. At least he’s now back home in Miami on a three-year, $30 million deal — I guess things didn’t turn out too bad hey, Ereck?



2016 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - Leonard Floyd, Linebacker, Georgia (Selected By Chicago Bears)


David Banks/Associated Press

Not only was Leonard Floyd selected by the city hosting the 2016 NFL Draft, but Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace was so confident in his decision to do so that he traded up with Tampa Bay to get him! While the outside linebacker’s college career at Georgia was hardly decorated, one thing he certainly didn’t struggle with was absolutely stuffing the box score. One hundred-eighty-two total tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, five forced fumbles, four defended passes, two fumble recoveries and one touchdown in just 37 games on the Bulldogs saw Floyd forego his senior season and declare for the 2016 NFL Draft. Receiving interest from and running drills for representatives from all 32 NFL teams at Georgia’s pro day, Mike Mayock ranked Floyd as the second-best linebacker/edge rusher prospect ahead of the draft which — given that his class also contained names such as Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner — signified the defender’s exceptional talent. Not willing to miss out on the chance to bring the potential phenom to Soldier Field, Chicago ensured that the Windy City faithful would be walking home happy on April 28th as Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the Bears had taken Floyd with the ninth overall pick, adding him to a defense in serious need of renovation given their poor 2015 performance. And although the unit’s level of play actually further regressed the following campaign with the rookie edge rusher now in the mix, Floyd’s individual effort in 2016 didn’t go unnoticed. The former-Bulldog recorded 33 tackles (six for loss), nine quarterback hits, seven sacks, two defended passes, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one touchdown and one safety on his way to a well-deserved inclusion in the PFWA All-Rookie Team, where he joined fellow linebackers Jatavis Brown and Deion Jones. However, 2016 would ultimately prove to be the ninth overall pick’s most productive campaign at Soldier Field as he failed to top his debut-season output in any of the following three years, resulting in his release from the Bears on March 17th, 2020. Rams’ general manager Les Snead signed the linebacker to a one-year on April 24th in a move that fuelled Floyd to have his most productive NFL season to date. In 2020, the pass rusher put up 55 tackles (11 for loss), 19 quarterback hits, 10.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a defended pass as Brandon Staley maximized the player’s ability on their way to a 10-6 regular-season record and a playoff win over Seattle in the Wild Card round. Now a 28-year-old free agent, it will be interesting to see which team’s colours Floyd will be donning this September as he — much like Ereck Flowers — strives for his first Pro Bowl appearance. Because of this, the linebacker — at least for now — doesn’t go down as a draft pick pay-off because for a ninth overall selection in the NFL Draft, you expect so much more from a supposed premium talent. And while Floyd may well still improve as he reaches his age 30 season, it’s unlikely to be on the Bears. Ryan Pace missed the mark on this one.


2017 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - John Ross, Wide Receiver, Washington (Selected By Cincinnati Bengals)


Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports

Well known for his title as the fastest player ever at the NFL Combine — clocking in at 4.22 seconds in the 40-yard dash — John Ross has spent the vast majority of his pro career doing his very best to run away from his injury problems. Committing to the University of Washington in 2013, the wideout totalled just 579 yards and one touchdown in his first two years in purple and gold, missing the entire 2015 season after suffering a torn ACL during spring practices. However — still yet to truly prove himself as a serious offensive weapon at the NCAA level — the receiver returned from injury where he enjoyed a stellar redshirt junior campaign. With Jake Browning behind center, Ross compiled 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2016 — the third, fourth, and second-highest figures in a single season in school history respectively — which put him on the radar of both NFL scouts and general managers the league over. Being named first-team All-Pac-12 and the AP Pac-12 Player of the Year that season, was just a cherry on top of his already impressive resume. All that was left to do was muster a respectable showing at the NFL Combine, and do that he did. A frankly absurd 4.22-second 40-yard dash and 11-foot-1-inch broad jump to boot displayed the speedster’s incredible athletic ability, which was enough for Mike Brown to pull the trigger on the pass-catcher. The Bengals selected the Husky with the ninth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and added him to a wide receiver corps featuring A. J. Green and Tyler Boyd. And while Ross provided Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati offense with a serious down-field threat that could open up Marvin Lewis’ playbook, the wideout — much like his 2015 year in Washington — just couldn’t stay on the field. An injury-laden rookie season saw the ninth overall pick fail to register a single catch in three games, only adding 210 yards to his NFL career total in 2018 where, once again, Ross didn’t complete a full season. Five-hundred-six yards in eight games the following year provided Bengals fans everywhere some hope that the receiver could put his injury issues behind him going forward, only to be let down in 2020 as the speedster only featured in three games due to injury again and even requested to be traded by Cincinnati midway through the season. With the team’s front office declining the fifth-year option on Ross’ rookie contract last May, the receiver’s days at Paul Brown Stadium appear to be numbered. But given his injury history, I’m not sure how much of a market he’ll have outside of Cincinnati, bearing in mind that he’s still yet to complete a full 16-game season on the field. At 25, Ross hasn’t quite passed 1,000 career receiving yards at present, but in the right system with the right offensive play-caller and the right quarterback, he holds a lot of potential as a down-field threat that can take the top off of a defense. Personally, I see him as nothing more than damaged goods at this point. Sorry, Bengals fans, this draft pick just didn’t pay off for you in the slightest. Still, at least Marvin Lewis is finally gone. So things could be worse, right?



2018 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - Mike McGlinchey, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame (Selected By San Francisco 49ers)


Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

With premium offensive tackles both few and far between and thus increasingly sought-after — particularly in the pass-happy era of NFL football we’re currently living in — it’s little wonder why Mike McGlinchey was taken as high as ninth in the 2018 NFL Draft. The lineman enjoyed four seasons on the field at Notre Dame — racking up 39 starts in the process — where he emerged as one of the very best tackles in the NCAA, winning consensus All-American honours in 2017. And with no remaining years of collegiate eligibility come 2018, McGlinchey declared for the draft alongside Fighting Irishmen teammate Quenton Nelson (who decided to forego his final season). In a bid to pair fellow bookend and all-time franchise great Joe Staley with another top tackle, 49ers general manager John Lynch selected the six-foot-eight McGlinchey at number nine overall where he would offer the recently acquired Jimmy Garoppolo some much-needed protection as the passer entered his first full season with the team. And while San Francisco’s quarterback went down in Week 3 with a season-ending ACL tear, McGlinchey remained on the field for all 16 games of the 2018 season where he earned an inclusion in the PFWA All-Rookie Team. In what would soon be revealed as Staley’s final season in red and gold, Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers went 13-3 in the regular season, blew out both Minnesota and Green Bay in the playoffs by a combined 34 points and booked their ticket to the team’s first Super Bowl in 25 years — a game in which McGlinchey started at the opposite bookend spot across from the beloved 13-season veteran. And while the ninth overall pick ultimately came up short of getting his hands on the Lombardi Trophy, his astounding play in 2019 instilled a great deal of faith in John Lynch and Co that they’d made the right selection on April 26th of the previous year. Completing his second full season in three years this past campaign, the lineman’s durability and reliability at the tackle spot is something a lot of teams could only dream of. No matter the cost, securing a player of McGlinchey’s calibre who helps in the way of quarterback protection and Shanahan’s widely-revered zone running scheme is crucial to the modern-day NFL. And having only recently turned 26, Levi’s Stadium should expect more of the same from their tackle for years to come as the Fighting Irishman approaches his prime. Hats off to John Lynch on this one. In my eyes, this absolutely represents a draft pick pay-off given the scarcity of top-level talent at the position. That post-rookie deal pay day is coming very soon.



2019 NFL Draft’s Ninth Overall Pick - Ed Oliver, Defensive Tackle, Houston (Selected By Buffalo Bills)


Michael Reaves/Getty Images

As Joel Hodgson famously popularized in episode 22 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, you should never trust a man with two first names. Clearly, Bills general manager Brandon Beane didn’t get the memo, selecting Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft — a move that continues to divide opinion given the defensive tackle’s play thus far in the pros. However, one thing that cannot be debated is just how well Oliver performed at the college level. Three consecutive seasons of incredible production saw the defender leave school a year early, but not before picking up a plethora of awards. As a true freshman in 2016, the defensive tackle was named both a first-team All-AAC and All-American as well as the Bill Willis Trophy and AAC Rookie Player of the Year Award winner. His sophomore season saw him receive both of the aforementioned first-team honours again, also adding the Outland Trophy and AAC Defensive Player of the Year award to his accolades. And for the third consecutive year in the NCAA, Oliver earned first-team All-ACC and All-American inclusions — leaving the University of Houston having compiled 192 tackles, 53 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, 11 defended passes, five forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. With no further evidence required that Oliver was ready for the pro level, the Cougar became just the second defensive tackle off the board behind Alabama’s Quinnen Williams as the Bills’ front office brought the phenom to Buffalo, in a move that Brandon Beane and Co. hoped would represent — just like the stadium — a New Era. And with Oliver now in the line-up, things did indeed take a turn for the better. Buffalo notched their first double-digit win season in 20 years as their new defensive tackle contributed 43 tackles (five for loss), eight quarterback hits, five sacks, two defended passes and one forced fumble in just seven starts from the interior, earning an inclusion in the PFWA All-Rookie Team for 2019. However, as the Bills’ level of play improved mightily the following season, Oliver’s unfortunately — at least in the box score — simultaneously regressed. Despite starting more than twice as many games as he did in his rookie year, the defensive tackle’s production diminished in the way of total tackles, quarterback hits and sacks in 2020, as the team went on to make an AFC Championship Game appearance following a 13-3 regular-season effort. At just 23 years of age and possessing only two years of experience as a pro, it’s still far too early to determine whether or not the ninth overall pick is the real deal in the NFL, or nothing more than fool’s gold. But given Brandon Beane’s recent track record with regards to player personnel, I think it’s fair to give him the benefit of the doubt here. Because if Oliver can transfer his level of play as a Cougar to the Bills, then he’ll be giving opposing guards, centers and offensive coordinators nightmares for years to come. Not a draft pick pay-off right now, but he absolutely has the potential and talent to become one in the not-too-distant future.

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