75 Days Until Vikings Football: Brian O'Neill is on the Verge of Stardom
As we count down the days until the Vikings' opener against the Packers on September 13th, InsideTheVikings will be previewing every single player on the roster. The amount of days remaining corresponds with the jersey number of the player being examined on that day. Today is June 30th, and there are 75 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. That means we wrap up this month by looking at the Vikings' best offensive lineman.
Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 75 Days
Player Preview: Brian O'Neill (No. 75, Offensive Tackle)
- College: Pitt
- Drafted: 2018 second round (62nd overall)
- NFL experience: Two years (2020 will be his third season)
- Age: 24 (Turns 25 in September)
- Size: 6'7", 297
- 2019 PFF Grade: 70.8
Rick Spielman and the Vikings' scouting department hit a home run when they selected Brian O'Neill with the 62nd overall pick in the 2018 draft. The highly athletic tackle prospect was seen as a bit of a project coming out of Pitt – someone who might need a season or two of development before becoming a quality starter. Instead, O'Neill was a pleasant surprise as a rookie, continued improving in his second season, and appears poised to become the Vikings' best homegrown tackle in a long time.
O'Neill's athleticism can be traced back to his days as a star high school tight end – who also played lacrosse and basketball – in Delaware. He committed to Pitt as a tight end, and didn't make the switch to tackle until prior to his redshirt freshman year in 2015. A couple years later, he was a first-team All-ACC tackle. However, despite adding weight to play on the offensive line, O'Neill's movement ability never left. In 2016, he scored two touchdowns on trick plays and was the winner of SB Nation's Piesman Trophy.
More importantly, that athleticism showed up in O'Neill's blocking. He became a dominant run-blocking force at the college level with his ability to get off the ball quickly and get to the second level. O'Neill helped former Pitt star James Conner have a huge 2016 season, and he also improved greatly in pass protection during his three years as a starter. At the 2018 combine, O'Neill's tight end background once again shined through. He ran a 4.82 40 and a 7.14 three-cone drill, both of which rank in the 98th percentile for offensive tackles.
Despite concerns existing about his technique and power, the Vikings took a chance on O'Neill late in the second round. By Week 6 of his rookie year, he was forced into a starting role due to an injury to Rashod Hill. O'Neill would go on to start the final 11 games of the 2018 season without surrendering a single sack. Pro Football Focus gave him a decent 63.0 grade, but more importantly, it was quickly apparent that O'Neill had the tools to become a star at the NFL level.
In 2019, he took an important step forward. The Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison and committed to a run-heavy, zone blocking offensive scheme. O'Neill's quickness makes him a picture-perfect fit for that scheme, as he is able to execute difficult reach blocks and pulls. He helped Dalvin Cook have a breakout season, and continued to thrive as a pass-blocker by only allowing one sack. His PFF grade for the season jumped to 70.8, with a run-blocking grade that ranked 15th out of 77 qualified tackles.
O'Neill has clearly established himself as the best player on the Vikings' offensive line, and with the rest of that unit littered with question marks, the coaching staff would love to see him continue to develop into a consistent star in 2020. Because of his performance over the past two seasons, expectations for O'Neill are through the roof. Bleacher Report listed him as the Vikings' No. 1 building block. There's been talk that he could become the Vikings' first Pro Bowl offensive lineman since 2012.
The hype is real and there's no reason he can't live up to it. O'Neill will be in the same system under Kubiak and Dennison, and he has room to continue improving in pass protection, despite his 'sacks allowed' numbers. He'll be playing next to a different right guard for the third time in three years, but it's quite possible that Dru Samia (or whoever wins that job) will be better than Mike Remmers and Josh Kline.
O'Neill is on an extremely promising trajectory. If he can continue following that path, he could be a star on the Minnesota offensive line for many years to come.
Previous OL player previews:
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