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What are the Jaguars getting in Josh Oliver?

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I’ll be doing comprehensive scouting reports on each of the Jacksonville Jaguars draft selections from now up until OTAs.

Last week, I spotlighted Kentucky defensive end and linebacker Josh Allen and Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor.

In this installment, I break down rookie tight end Josh Oliver.

Background and character

A native of Templeton, California, Oliver was an all-state tight end, defensive end, and linebacker at Paso Robles High School under coach Rich Shimke. In addition to averaging over 18 yards per catch, Oliver was also named the Pac-5 League Defensive Player of the Year scoring twice on interceptions. In addition to playing football, Oliver was a forward on his high school’s basketball team, which has traditionally been a positive attribute for NFL tight ends. In fact, Oliver models his game after former hoopster Tony Gonzalez.

Oliver was actually recruited to San Jose State as a defensive end/linebacker before injuries forced the team to move Oliver to offense. The move obviously paid off for him as Oliver became the first tight end to be drafted from San Jose State since 2004.

Oliver comes from outstanding family genetics. Oliver’s father, Rene Oliver, played college football for Cal Poly in the 1980’s. His uncle, Clancy Oliver, was a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 and 1970 and one of his second cousins is Major League Baseball left-handed pitcher Darren Oliver.

Oliver’s position coach, Matt Adkins, tweeted about the 2018 team co-captain earning over a 3.0 GPA every semester as a business administration major (three-time Academic All-Mountain West Award winner), finishing third on the team for volunteer hours, never being late to a meeting or having an off-field issue, and taking the requisite steps in preparation in regards to watching tape and nutrition.

Oliver also enjoys snowboarding in his spare time. Not much snow in Jacksonville, Josh, but maybe we can interest you in trading in your snowboard for a surfboard? Oliver has said he enjoys the beach in his post-draft interviews with Jaguars media.

Overall, it seems as if the Jaguars have as clean of a prospect in regards to background/character as it gets when it comes to Josh Oliver.

Physical traits and production

Physically, Oliver has solid height/weight (6’4 5/8”, 249 lbs) with huge inflated Popeye arms, compact trunk and chiseled lower body (he don’t skip leg day, folks). Oliver put up 22 reps on the bench in pre-draft testing and he shows off his functional play strength by holding his ground when catching in traffic.

You hear the phrase “quicker than fast” often in scouting — well Oliver is actually “faster than quick.” While he posted a 35% percentile 3-cone (7.21), Oliver tested in the 83rd percentile in the 40-yard dash (4.63 seconds) and these times show up in his film as well. His 10 3/4” hands are in the 95% percentile (and allow him to do stuff like this) with 33 1/2” arm length.

The Mockdraftable player comparisons are an interesting assortment for Oliver, with names that range from Andrew Quarless to Rob Gronkowski. One of Oliver’s new teammates, Ben Koyack, also makes an appearance on the list. Overall, it’s a solid list of players as far as Mockdraftable goes.

In terms of production, Oliver finished the 2018 season with 56 catches for 709 yards and 4 TDs. Oliver additionally averaged 12.7 yards per reception, 4.7 yards after catch per reception, and 6.7% drop rate (56.6% catch percentage).

Additionally, no tight end in the country had more combined first downs and touchdowns than Oliver (39). No tight end in the country had more contested catches than Oliver (16). Oliver was also graded in the top five among draft-eligible tight ends when facing single coverage in 2018 by Pro Football Focus (Jace Sternberger, Caleb Wilson, T.J. Hockenson, and Irv Smith Jr.).

Player report

Note: Before I start my GIF breakdown of Oliver, I have to mention one thing because context is key. In watching the film of Oliver, the San Jose State quarterback situation was brutal. I mean truly painful to watch. The offensive line may have been even worse, thus compounding the ineptitude at the quarterback position. Despite getting blown out in games, Oliver continued to play 100mph on every snap, much to his credit.

Oliver has started 36 of 49 career games in four years at San Jose State. Despite the Spartans suffering from a 1-11 season in 2018 with a revolving door at the quarterback position, Oliver still managed to (somehow) post one of the most productive seasons by a tight end in university history and earned First-Team All-Mountain West honors. Oliver lined up in a variety of creative ways for the Spartans, including boundary receiver, slot receiver, in-line tight end, fullback, and even deep blocking back in shotgun formations.

Oliver’s best attribute is immediately apparent — his ability to accelerate into linear route stems and challenge defenses vertically.

Even if he’s not targeted, Oliver’s ability to stretch the seams should do wonders in opening space for the rest of his receivers in a modernized west coast offense that John DeFilippo employs. In this play, Oliver does a great job of catching the contested touchdown, but look at all the space he created underneath with his route that could have been exploited.

While Oliver is a seam stretcher who can accelerate out of his stem quickly on linear routes, he lacks polish on short, breaking routes, emphasizing his lackluster timed speed in change of direction drills.

While this throw should never have been made into double coverage (remember my QB disclaimer above), Oliver did himself no favors with such a rounded break in his out route and no hip manipulation to feint the defensive back off his scent. This shows up mostly on outs and digs, but Oliver also shows some latency on corner and post routes that require some twitch to inflate separation.

When you’re in man coverage against a twitchier cornerback or safety, it could be an issue. When working against zone, it’s not as big of a deal, as you can see in the play below. Oliver starts his break at the 34 yard line and receives it between the 37-38 yard line. Still a completion and there was no need to consolidate his cut against zone, but this is a consistent example of Oliver’s change of direction/breaking illustration on 90’ degree routes.

One positive about Oliver is he doesn’t necessarily need ample separation to make catches, as evidenced by his NCAA-leading 16 contested catches this year. Here’s an example of Oliver demonstrating good timing and patience to haul in a pass while the defender had good positioning.

This is a trait I value in pass catchers – the ability not to tip off defenders in man coverage that you’re challenging for a pass. It’s important to wait until the last possible comfortable moment to time your stab and then stash the football without telegraphing your intentions. It’s something that Zach Ertz of the Eagles does extremely well to rack up a high volume of catches.

In terms of the catching process, Oliver is a natural hands catcher with strong manual dexterity who also displays great kinesthetic sense to corral balls outside of his catch radius.

Oliver won’t come down with every 50/50 ball (to his defense, he’s double teamed in the clip below), but he checks the box in regards to being able to time his leaps to catch the ball at the highest comfortable point to give him the best percentage and opportunity for making these catches. In this instance, Oliver actually catches the ball away from his body and starts the process of the catch until the secondary defender rakes it away from his clutches.

Oliver is a good enough athlete where he can do some damage with the ball in his hands after the catch, however, San Jose State just didn’t ask him to run many slant and drag routes from the four games I watched.

When it comes to blocking, Oliver may not be the people mover of a Marcedes Lewis or Lee Smith, but he does get to his assignment in space with urgency, especially when aligned in the slot where he will be plying the majority of his trade with the Jaguars.

Oliver also showcases the enthusiasm to get his hands dirty as needed.

It’s really going to be more of a mental processing/technical adjustment for Oliver when it comes to his blocking, specifically with his hand placement, utilization of his lower body to leg drive people off the point of attack, and just sheer awareness to pick up blitzers.

Over 50% of the battle when it comes to learning how to run block as a tight end is a willingness to do so, and with Oliver’s high school experience as a defensive end/linebacker, the willingness to be physical should absolutely be intrinsically present. He does have some feistiness to him, though.

Another angle, for your viewing pleasure.

Projection

John DeFilippo has already shared that Oliver will be featured as the “F’ move tight end in the Jaguars offense. This means that while Oliver will seldom be aligned in-line and asked to block bigger defensive ends, he will still need to shore up his overall blocking technique. However, as illustrated above, Oliver has shown a proclivity to seal out players when attacking in space on screens or quick hitting drags to help spring gains, so I’m not as worried about Oliver’s blocking ability as some others.

Couple this with the fact that Nick Foles comes from the Philadelphia Eagles system that targets tight ends a league-leading 35.7% of the time (Jaguars only targeted tight ends 17% of the time last year, for reference), and Oliver is in for an enormous force-feeding this year. I expect Oliver to have a ton of play as a “big slot” receiver in 3x1 sets (three receivers on one side of the formation, one on the other side) to take advantage of size mismatches over smaller nickel cornerbacks or speed mismatches with linebackers (think Evan Engram with the Giants). Such a wrinkle is something that Jacksonville has been direly missing for a long time now. We finally have a guy who physically can attack the seams with a quarterback who can make those tight window throws, so this is either going to provide offensive fireworks or be a molotov cocktail of inefficacy.

I say that last part because the issue is that rookie tight ends have traditionally struggled to put up production in their first years and usually take a full season to get acclimated to the speed and power of the NFL game. Add in the fact that Oliver has a ways to go when it comes to learning technique as a blocker to become a more balanced player, and that’s a lot to put on the plate of a third-round tight end in year one. Sprinkle in the additional garnish that he played on a 1-11 team this past year who got blown out by the likes of Utah State and Army, and that’s an enormous talent gap that Oliver has to overcome that further waters down his odds of being an impact player out of the gate.

While Oliver provides more physical prowess and mismatch receiving ability from the tight end position that has been missing in Jacksonville, it’s important to temper expectations and be patient with the growing pains that Oliver is likely to endure. This is why a move like acquiring a veteran tight end who can line up in the “Y” in-line position (like Kyle Rudolph, who John DeFilippo coached last year in Minnesota), should be worth exploring as it takes a lot of pressure off of Oliver and could facilitate his long-term development.

I spoke at length about Oliver’s potential impact in John DeFilippo’s offense on a recent Locked On Jaguars podcast with Tony Wiggins.