Former Pitt offensive lineman Brian O’Neill got a big boost in his draft stock on Thursday, when ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. predicted that the Pitt junior will be a first-round pick.
Kiper, in his first mock of the 2018 NFL Draft, predicted that O’Neill will be selected with 16th pick in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens.
O’Neill declared for the draft a year early, leaving Pitt as a redshirt junior. At the time, there were few draft evaluations done on the lineman, who made headlines for his athletic touchdowns and won the 2016 Piesman Trophy for “un-linemanlike play.”
But the NFL isn’t looking for tackles to score touchdowns. They want players that can protect the quarterback and make room for running backs, and that’s what O’Neill will be evaluated on. In that regard, Kiper likes what he sees in the three-year starter. He sees a need at right tackle for the Ravens.
“O’Neill can play right tackle, which he did play two years ago.” Kiper said on a conference call Thursday afternoon. “He’s a former tight end, which I love. I love the feet and the athletic ability of guys like that, tight end to offensive tackle. He had a great year and if you put him at right tackle to start, (left tackle) Ronnie Stanley has had some injury issue as well and he hasn’t exactly been super yet, as he can be. (O’Neill) can play left tackle, he can play guard, he can play anywhere. The right tackle spot would be upgraded if they bring in Brian O’Neil.”
A chance to play in Baltimore would be a return to O’Neill’s mid-Atlantic roots. The Wilmington, Delaware native grew up about an hour and a half east of the Ravens home field.
When he first decided to turn pro, there weren’t a lot of draft projections that included O’Neill as a junior, but the analysis by Kiper, one of the field’s most respected voices, suggests that O’Neill made a good decision in deciding to seek out the NFL a year early.
He’ll have a chance to showcase his skills at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on Jan. 27. Five of his Pitt teammates are also playing in post-season All-Star games. Wide receiver Jester Weah and cornerback Avonte Maddox are playing in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida this Saturday. Offensive linemen Brandon Hodges, Alex Officer and Jaryd Jones-Smith are playing in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, California this Saturday.
The East-West Shrine Game will be broadcast on NFL Network at 3 p.m. The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl starts at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast on FS1. The Senior Bowl will be on NFL Network on Jan. 27 at 12:30 p.m.