Tuesday, May 8, 2018

How quickly can Vikings OT Brian O'Neill develop in the NFL?

Photo: 24/7 Sports 

Many are wondering how long it will take Brian O'Neill to develop in the NFL. Is he really that raw or is he more inconsistent? Daniel House takes a closer look and explains the trajectory O'Neill's development could take. 

Updated: May 8, 2018, 12:45 p.m.

By: Daniel House

When the Vikings selected Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O'Neill in the second round, concerns quickly arose about the "raw" nature of his game. Many people have labeled him as a "project" who will need at least one year to develop. Of course, there are clearly areas he needs to improve, such as strength and technique, but O'Neill is more "inconsistent" than "raw." This is expected as he continues to learn the position after converting from tight end to offensive tackle. The question is: how long will it take for him to develop? Nobody has the answer, but if he plays right tackle, there's a chance he may contribute immediately.

His frame and athletic traits leave many people encouraged about the potential upside associated with his game.

O'Neill was one of the most athletic offensive line prospects in the draft class. His 4.82 40-yard dash and 7.14-second three-cone rank in the 98th percentile among offensive tackles. This type of quickness fits nicely within the Vikings' zone blocking scheme. O'Neill, a converted tight end will need to continue adding weight to handle the power rushers the NFL has to offer. However, he can certainly benefit from the quickness and agility he displays within his skill-set. These type of traits are things you simply cannot teach an offensive tackle. When coaches have tight ends with average athleticism, they often consider moving them to tackle if they have the frame to hold more weight. With O'Neill, his quick feet and explosiveness out of his stance are on display in every aspect of his game, including as a run blocker in space and pass protector. This, combined with his room for growth physically, must have the Vikings' coaching staff excited for his future.

A perfect case study for this is former New England Patriots and current New York Giants All-Pro tackle Nate Solder. Before making the transition to tackle, Solder weighed just 265 pounds and several years later managed to weigh in at 320 pounds. At the moment, O'Neill weighs 297 pounds, which is certainly on the fringe of being a serviceable figure for the time being. He has been labeled as "raw," but had the best pass blocking efficiency in the nation in 2016 and the third-best ranking (98.3) last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Similarly, O'Neill allowed just one sack, two quarterback hits and six hurries in 2017. I think a more realistic way to label O'Neill's skill-set is "inconsistent." Many evaluators were concerned following his Senior Bowl performance, but it's all about whether you value a small sample size or the overall film. He struggled in 1-on-1 drills, but his tape spoke a different language overall. With O'Neill, there's two concerns regarding the overall findings in his film. One of them is associated with O'Neill's technique, specifically his footwork and hands.

There is one out of every four or five reps where O'Neill gets caught bending or off balance. It leads defensive ends to use strength to push him aside and knock him to the ground. When pass rushers use a speed to power conversion, it's where O'Neill can get himself into trouble. His feet get tied up from time-to-time, but when he gets a wide base, sets anchor, takes a sound angle and punches hard, the reps are just fine. He also gets his hands swatted often when he can get them in position or he's slow to punch.

The main takeaway is how speed has proven to be an asset when he is trying to handle speed rushers. During his game against NC State's Bradley Chubb, he used his swift start and backpedal to beat him to his spot (clip five below). The quarterback is running a designed roll-out and O'Neill is coached to use his speed to get an angle on Chubb, slowing him down like a speed bump. It isn't an issue of having speed and agility to handle rushers, but it's power that is the concern with O'Neill. In the last clip of the video below, you'll notice Bradley Chubb bull-rushing O'Neill, who gets backed into the quarterback. This is the area where O'Neill needs to improve his frame and get stronger. It's particularly noticeable with pass rushers who can convert speed to power quickly -- finishing the play. However, again, this is a scattered occurrence, too. The first few clips below show positive reps with O'Neill and gradually progresses to the weaknesses of his game. You can see what happens when O'Neill's technique is sound and his hands and feet are in complete sync.

The big key for O'Neill will be the coaching he receives. First, it starts with developing consistent technique, preventing lapses with his feet and hands. Secondly, the strength and conditioning program will need to have him in a position to add roughly 15 pounds. For the time being, based upon his experience and skill-set, O'Neill could be an effective right tackle immediately. Perhaps if he performs well enough in training camp and the preseason, the team could slide Mike Remmers to guard and start O'Neill at right tackle. It's far too early to think this will happen, but it certainly wouldn't be shocking to get him experience on the right side before training to become a full-time left tackle. In camp and the preseason, we'll see how he handles power rushers and the physicality of football at the next level. He has the speed and agility to compensate, but strength is the major concern.

One of the clear benefits of O'Neill's skill-set are his movement skills. He is superior in space for a tackle prospect with his measurements. It is impossible to cut up all of the positive reps where O'Neill is asked to pull and find defenders in the second level. When going through his games, there was at least five reps per game where he delivered a key block down the field. Not only that, but there were games where Pittsburgh ran a trick play in his direction and he used his speed to score a touchdown. His athletic traits are an excellent fit for the Vikings' zone blocking scheme, where downfield blocking and movement in space are necessary. These clips below often make it hard to identify O'Neill because he is moving in such a non-prototypical fashion for an offensive tackle.

Overall, based upon his tape and my view of his production, I think it is unfair to label Brian O'Neill as "raw." He has experience at the position and statistically speaking has held up better than one would anticipate. It's more about inconsistency with technique and getting stronger. For the time being, an improvement in his technique may allow him to play immediately as a right tackle. In the future, he could transition to the left side once he has shown growth in the strength and conditioning program. The potential ceiling is high for O'Neill because of his traits and early collegiate success at the position. Ideally, the Vikings would be best suited to allow O'Neill time to develop for a year, but it's all about how quickly he can become consistent from a technical standpoint. If he can take the steps needed to develop at the trajectory I'm projecting, O'Neill could be a rock solid fit for the Vikings as a left tackle. Until then, he can work behind Riley Reiff or play right tackle until he's physically ready to move to the left side.

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