Bills’ Ed Oliver has big shoes to fill after Kyle Williams’s retirement


The Bills’ defense will have 10 of its 11 starters returning for the 2019 season — pretty good news, since it was quietly one of the top units in the NFL last year. The only concern is the loss of the single player who will not be back, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams. A team captain and fan favorite, he will be missed not only on the field, but also on a day-to-day basis in the locker room and in team meetings.

Knowing the importance of the now-retired legend, General Manager Brandon Beane spent his highest pick in the draft, ninth overall, to select Houston DT Ed Oliver to be his successor. He comes in with a major responsibility, and that’s also the major question mark to be answered about the team’s defense in 2019. How much will the team miss its longtime captain?

Despite starting minicamp on the second team playing alongside potential long-term partner Harrison Phillips and behind veteran Jordan Phillips, it’s obvious that the team expects Oliver to earn his starting position in the offseason and become a force in Kyle’s place. The coaching staff already talked about how they can see some similarities in their games and the high expectations for the first-round selection. Will Oliver, as a rookie, be ready to replace Kyle’s impact in this defense?

According to Pro Football Focus, Kyle recorded eight sacks, seven QB hits, 19 QB hurries and 16 stops on his way to a very good 9.0 overall grade (3.2 run defense and 5.3 pass rush grade). It was good but far from his prime years. For example, in 2010, when he was a first-team All-Pro, PFF graded him at a ridiculous 39.1 overall (27.7 run defense and 12.8 pass rush grade). Despite the sacks (six) and QB hits (eight) being similar, he recorded 10 more QB hurries (29) and amassed 50 run stops.

The reason I made this comparison is because Ed Oliver has this type of potential. Obviously, it would be unfair to expect the rookie to produce at prime Kyle Williams level, but he’s more physically capable of doing it at this point than Kyle if he came back for another year. In this sense, Oliver might be an upgrade at the 3-technique role. We’re talking about a guy who amassed 14 sacks, 11 QB hits, 48 QB hurries, and 117 run stops in his four-year collegiate career (1,938 snaps). If we put Kyle’s 2009 and 2010 prime years together (2128 snaps), his numbers would be nine sacks, 19 QB hurries, 40 QB hurries, and 76 run stops. Obviously, we need to consider the level of competition, but Oliver compares pretty well, especially because we’re talking about an NFL All-Pro there.

There’s no doubt the rookie has the potential, skillset, and athleticism to replace the veteran at a respectable level and become an improvement down the road. What he can’t replace at this point, and we will only know how much the team misses it on the field, is Kyle’s leadership and rare knowledge for the game. Some of the team’s pass rush schemes, like stunts, were dialed up by the veteran according to what he was seeing on a down-to-down basis. There’s no way Oliver will be able to offer anything close to that at this point in his career. The pressure will be on veteran players and coaches to try to minimize the loss in this department.

In 2019 we’ll be able to measure the importance of having a very good “coach on the field” because that’s what Kyle Williams really was for the Bills the last few years. It will be interesting to see how much of that loss Ed Oliver can mitigate his rookie season.