Friday, April 27, 2018

Movement skills, athleticism played a role in Vikings selecting Brian O’Neill

Photo: 24/7 Sports

Offensive linemen were flying off the board, but GM Rick Spielman and the Vikings landed the player they preferred in the second round. 

When the Vikings were in the war room and offensive linemen started to fall off the board, the team was breathing a sigh of relief when their target was still available – Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O’Neill. With four interior offensive linemen flying off the board during the first seven picks of the second round, there was a chance the Vikings’ options could have been limited.

“They were flying off the board quicker than any time I can remember,” GM Rick Spielman said.

At pick No. 62, O’Neill had the athletic skill-set and system fit the coaching staff were looking for within their zone blocking scheme.

“We felt very fortunate that Brian was there,” GM Rick Spielman said. “He has tremendous athletic ability that you can’t teach. You watch his tape, you watch him get into the second level, you watch him pull. [He has all] the physical and athletic traits we look for in the scheme that we run.”

O’Neill ran a 4.8 40-yard dash, testing above average in all the short range quickness drills. All of these traits were things Spielman felt confident his coaching staff could develop. It’s why the general manager has always stressed the importance of communication between the front office and coaches.

“I know if I can get coaches this type of athlete, they can develop these guys,” Spielman said. “And we think [O’Neill} has tremendous upside and we can’t wait until we can get him in here this weekend.”

After arriving in Minnesota, one of the areas O’Neill will need improve is his overall strength and attention to technique. During the draft process, Spielman spoke with head strength coach Mark Uyeyama, who studied prospects with similar traits and testing numbers over the past six years. The GM and coaches were pleased with the results. At the end of the day, it all comes back to upside and intangibles, which is something O’Neill possesses.

“I think he’s going to add strength, I think that’s just part of maturing,” Spielman said. “We thought he was one of the top athletes in the draft at the offensive tackle position.”

However, it isn’t just the numbers the Vikings are looking at when they are evaluating a prospect like O’Neill. Those traits pair with the traditional film observations the team spends so much time watching. A few boxes must be checked, including whether the player fits the scheme.

“We have the analytics and we have all the numbers and do this and that, but you truly have to trust your eyes,” Spielman said. “We are looking at, is it tailored to what we are going to ask them to do here, whether offensive or defensive scheme?”

The Vikings ended the night by trading out of the third round selection (No. 94) with the Tampa Buccaneers. Minnesota received the second pick in the fourth round (No. 102) and a sixth round pick (No. 180). According to Spielman, the trade was favorable due to the prospects remaining on the team’s draft board.

“I just feel with the way our board looked and getting that second overall pick in the fourth round, we can still get the same player we would have probably have taken in the bottom of the third,” Spielman said.

Not only that, but other teams have the night/morning to call the Vikings about a potential trade. Spielman said the Vikings have two players they currently feel comfortable selecting at No. 102, but they will listen to trade offers, too. With a valuable selection like this, the Vikings control the direction the day will head.

“Getting the second overall pick in the fourth round, we have an opportunity to pretty much control that third day with the ability to take the best player available or move down some and continue to add picks because I think there is still a lot of value out there in the third day,” Spielman said.

At the end of the day, Spielman prefers to accumulate picks and draft players he feels the coaching staff can develop to another level. A trade like he executed Friday night provides a chance to increase his “batting average.”  

“At least my philosophy has been the more players you can bring here, the more swings you can take, the better odds you have of hitting on guys,” Spielman said.

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