PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Brian O’Neill became the third Pitt player to leave early for the NFL Draft on Friday, joining teammates Jordan Whitehead and Quadree Henderson.
The redshirt junior established himself as one of the top offensive lineman in the ACC over the last three seasons, starting 37 games in a row for the Panthers. He started all 12 games at left tackle this year, sliding over from the right side where he played the previous two seasons. His development into a dominant lineman has been one Pitt fans have enjoyed watching since he arrived in Oakland to play another position.
The Wilmington, Delaware, native was originally recruited to Pitt to play tight end but moved to offensive tackle due to the team’s need in 2015. He beefed up, adding 45 pounds to meet the physical demands of the position, yet never lost his athleticism that made him a weapon catching the ball. Marino says that combination of strength and agility is what makes O’Neill an appealing prospect.
“I think he offers a blend of mobility and power,” Marino said. “I think he’s exactly what you’re looking for in today’s left tackle. Guys who can slide their feet against premiere pass rushers and also anchor and move bodies as a run blocker.”
As NFL offenses continue to evolve and incorporate more nuances of the college game’s spread attack, Marino said it’s important left tackles possess a variety of power and nimbleness to fit many different schemes. He watched film of O’Neill over the summer but said he wanted to see the Pitt lineman’s functional strength improve.
“I always knew he had mobility and an ability to slide his feet to and redirect his weight,” Marino said. “But I wanted to see from him was more functional strength—to really absorb contact and create room in the running game.”
Marino went on to add that O’Neill showed significant improvement this season in using his functional strength to be a physical run blocker.
“I’ve seen several Pitt games this year, and I think he’s really answered that question, where he’s got his functional strength to go with his mobility,” Marino said. “That’s the foundation teams are looking for.”
O’Neill’s decision to make a position switch and his subsequent development at tackle are about to pay off in a big way.
“I think O’Neill is right in the mix in what looks to be a good offensive tackle year,” Marino said. “I don’t know if he’s at the top tier…but I think he’s right there in that second tier and likely a Top 50 pick.”
Marino believes O’Neill has the skill set to be a starter relatively soon in the NFL and said the quality of edge rushers in the ACC has prepared him for the next level.
“You know one thing about playing in the ACC is it’s loaded with pass rushers,” Marino said. “He’s faced all the guys from Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Miami—he’s seen all these guys. It’s a really good preparation, really, to go from the ACC to the NFL in terms of pass rushers and in terms of what he’s going to see at the next level.”