By Charlie Campbell
Summary: The 2018 NFL Draft is weak at the offensive tackle position, but there are plenty of teams in the NFL that are in need of young talent on the edge of their offensive lines. Tackle is a premium position, and the 2017 NFL Draft was also weak for edge protectors. As a result, some tackles prospects will benefit from that demand, and O’Neill is one of those fortunate prospects. While he has a talented skill set, O’Neill is raw and needs physical development for the NFL.
O’Neill is an interesting athlete. He played wide receiver in high school before going to Pittsburgh as a tight end. After redshirting as a tight end, he switched to offensive tackle and gained a lot of weight. In 2015 and 2016, O’Neill was the starting right tackle for the Panthers. With Adam Bisnowaty moving on to the NFL, O’Neill was Pittsburgh’s left tackle for 2017 and had a decent season. O’Neill was able to earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl, and he had a mixed week of practice in Mobile. While he was physically pushed around at times by stronger defenders, O’Neill did show good athleticism as a blocker. Overall though, team sources told me that O’Neill helped himself with his performance at the Senior Bowl.
O’Neill has a lot of tools to develop for the NFL. He has good height, length, and the frame to add more weight in a pro strength and conditioning program. O’Neill is a good athlete with quick feet and agility on the edge. He is quick out of his stance and is able to play the typewriter with his feet. That quickness, agility and athleticism make him a potentially talented edge protector to block speed rushers in the NFL. O’Neill has a nice ability to bend at the knee and not lunge after rushers coming around the corner. With his skill set and athletic upside, O’Neill has starting left tackle potential for the NFL.
Given O’Neill’s transition in college to tackle, it is understandable that he is raw and needs developmental time. Sources from around the league have said that O’Neill lacks strength and has to add muscle for the NFL. He does not generate movement in the run game, lacks heavy hands, doesn’t pack a punch, and gets pushed back in bull rushes. O’Neill needs a year of development as a backup, while getting stronger in a pro training program, before he will be ready to take on NFL defensive linemen. If he is unable to add strength and also starts as a rookie, he is going to get pushed around frequently on Sundays.
O’Neill has been projected by some in the media to be a first-round pick. A couple of team sources said they had O’Neill as a third/fourth-round pick. One AFC general manager said they had O’Neill as a third-day pick and felt O’Neill lacked strength. Given the needs of teams at tackle, O’Neill is likely to be a second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. If he adds strength, O’Neill could develop into a quality starting left tackle.
Player Comparison: Sam Baker. O’Neill reminds me of a slightly longer version of Baker. Both were athletic with quick feet and agility. Baker lacked strength, however, and had some limitations as a pro blocker as a result. If O’Neill gets stronger, I think he could be a better version of Baker.
NFL Matches: Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Denver, Baltimore, Jacksonville, New England, Philadelphia and Houston
There are a lot of teams that could be a fit for O’Neill in the 2018 NFL Draft. Tampa Bay probably will address more pressing needs early, so O’Neill could be a target of the organization on Day 2. Cincinnati definitely needs to improve its offensive line. O’Neill could be in play for the Bengals as a potential replacement to Andrew Whitworth.
Denver could use another tackle to pair with Garett Bolles and give the Broncos bookend tackles. Baltimore could use an upgrade at right tackle. Taking O’Neill to go with Ronnie Stanley could make sense to provide some long-term tackles for the Ravens.
The Jaguars’ offensive line still needs work. O’Neill could compete at right tackle or guard for Jacksonville. In the same division, Houston badly needs some young talent at tackle.
Philadelphia needs another tackle to go with Lane Johnson. The Patriots could lose Nate Solder in free agency.
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