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11 for 11 NFL Draft series: Is Ed Oliver the next great Bengals defensive lineman?

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The Cincinnati Bengals may have an outside shot at a dominant college player who could immediately help their rebuilding defense.

Houston v Oklahoma Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive unit was a mess last year. Injuries, a lack of depth and poor coaching led to a No. 29 ranking against the run and a dead-last ranking against the pass and in overall defense.

Yikes.

As cures for what ails them, most folks are looking at the mid-level of the defense as the best early-round positional options for the unit. But, as the old adage goes, football is often won in the trenches, so having talent on the front line of a defense is crucial to a team’s potential success.

If Zac Taylor and Co. are eyeing defensive linemen with early picks, this draft is absolutely loaded with talent. One of the more enigmatic players in this year’s draft is Houston’s Ed Oliver.

The former Cougar could be gone by the time the Bengals are on the clock, but with such a deep class, he could slip through the cracks to No. 11. Do the Bengals run to the podium if Oliver is there, or do they grab a guy at a position in more need of assistance?

Why the pick makes sense:

  • Would be great value at No. 11, as many draft media platforms have him ranked within the top-10 (often top-five) of overall players in the class.
  • Unlike the four Clemson linemen in this class, Oliver showed greatness at the college level, even though there wasn’t much surrounding help.
  • Oliver did a little bit of everything from the interior of the Cougars’ defense. He racked up 13 sacks, five passes defended and an incredible 53 tackles for loss in three collegiate seasons.
  • Between what the Bengals employ at the interior of the defense from a size perspective, Oliver is a completely different physical profile.
  • Oliver put up some great workout numbers, including 32 repetitions on bench press, 36 inches on the vertical jump and 120 inches on the broad jump. The athleticism largely matches the dominant tape.
  • Grabbing Oliver would create an instantly-upgraded rotation up front for the Bengals. Packages where both he and Geno Atkins are used should present nightmares for opposing AFC North quarterbacks.
  • The Bengals are looking to be a bit more scheme-diverse on defense this year under Lou Anarumo and a guy with Oliver’s skill set should be very useful.
  • Similar questions existed about Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins coming out of college. I think we know how they turned out as pros.
  • Effort and range of play are almost never questions from this kid.
  • Could be a quality heir apparent to Atkins, who is entering his 10th season.

Why the pick doesn’t make sense:

  • One of the more prominent boom-or-bust players in this class.
  • Oliver might be relegated to role player duties at first, given the statuses of Atkins and Andrew Billings. While this isn’t a bad thing long-term, per se, this team and its defense need immediate impact, three-down contributors from the early rounds of this class.
  • There are questions about Oliver’s production coming against lesser talent. Personally speaking, I’d say you want the kind of domination from a “big fish in a small pond” that Oliver displayed, but it’s still something to consider at the NFL level.
  • What is his playing weight? Some believe he was near a 4-3 defensive end’s size in college, though he weighed in at 287 pounds at the NFL Combine.
  • Linebacker, offensive line, quarterback and wide receiver could be argued as bigger positional needs than a defensive lineman.
  • Ideally, there would be a little more consistency in the pass-rush game from Oliver.

All in all, the positives seem to greatly outweigh the negatives if Oliver is there for the Bengals at No. 11. If we’re talking big picture, it’s really about if he’s available and how Cincinnati prioritizes their positional needs in the draft.

How would you feel about Ed Oliver joining the Bengals via No. 11 overall in the NFL Draft?