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49ers Roster Bubble Watch: Melvin Oliver


Melvin Oliver is a guy who raises a lot of questions for the 49ers. He played a lot his rookie season in 2006. He followed that up with a torn ACL, missing the entire 2007 campaign. I started this blog in late December 2006 and by the time we really got going, Oliver was out for the count. In the NFL, if you're not a name-brand player, a missed season can be a career killer. When you're not a starter, it's easy to get shuffled out of the rotation. Manny Lawson had the injury issue last season, but he's slotted right back where he was before. In a Q&A, Maiocco made the best point:

Question: How do you see Melvin Oliver fitting in on the "D" line? and is he pretty much ready for camp? Love your blog, keep up the good work.

Answer: He's getting there. I think it'll be difficult for Oliver to stick. Remember, he started a lot when the 49ers played primarily 4-3. I don't believe he is suited very well for a 3-4.

While you can never have too much depth, the 49ers are in an interesting position along the defensive line. The switch to a 3-4 has reduced the need for defensive lineman. However, if Justin Smith is going to see a lot of time at outside linebacker, an extra defensive lineman would be very important. The problem for Oliver is that he'll be competing with Ray McDonald AND Kentwan Balmer for backup snaps at the end. If Balmer gets time at nose tackle that would certainly open up some more time.

What does Oliver bring to the table? His scouting report said the following:

He has good size, plays with leverage and can anchor against the run at end. He takes adequate pursuit angles and can close down cutback lanes. He has decent lower-body strength and flashes the ability to collapse the pocket. He has some lateral mobility, can redirect inside and runs line stunts well . . . He anticipates the snap well enough and has some gap-shooting quickness when he slides inside. He is maturing and should continue to improve. But Oliver lacks ideal quickness and speed at end. He doesn't have ideal size at tackle and doesn't shed blocks quickly.

I think the biggest problem Oliver faces is the simple numbers game. It'd be nice to keep him around, but not at the cost of another position. Of course, it also depends on how much confidence you have in Balmer and McDonald as back ups. McDonald showed a lot late last season. However, Balmer is a rookie with a lot to learn. The defensive line is built on quality rotations, so that is definitely a big factor playing Oliver's favor. Right now, I don't think he makes the roster, but it's a lot closer than I thought when I first did the 53-man roster projection.