When ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. drops his first mock draft of the new draft year, everyone seems to stop what they are doing and check their favorite team’s pick.
Sure, more fans than not (at least hopefully) know that a January mock draft means almost nothing in terms of predicting specific picks. With the Senior Bowl, Combine and Free Agency still ahead, it is nearly impossible to accurately predict pretty much anything at this point in the draft process. But Kiper’s mocks typically give a good idea of what range of picks a player could be selected in, so it is if nothing else, a good baseline for conversation.
In terms of Baltimore Ravens conversation, Kiper generated plenty when he mocked Pittsburgh left tackle Brian O’Neill to the Ravens at 16. With the O’Neill pick, Kiper specifically noted that with Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley off the board, no skill position player made sense at 16, which may be a stretch, but nonetheless shows the lack of depth at wide receiver in this year’s draft.
For those who are up in arms about another lineman, the best advice would be to get over it sooner than later. The reality is, no matter how much Ravens fans want the team to select a receiver at 16, the front office is smart enough not to force a need for the sake of forcing a need to please the fanbase, plain and simple.
Does that mean O’Neill specifically will be the pick?
But does that open the door for, say, an offensive lineman, defensive end or linebacker, for example? Sure. Just because the Ravens have a major need at wide receiver does not mean they do not have other opportunities for improvement on the roster.
With that said, let’s dive into O’Neill since he is a hot name with the Ravens after Kiper’s mock.
Listed at 6’6, 305 pounds, O’Neill has as much upside as just about any offensive lineman in this year’s draft class. A three-year starter at Pitt (right tackle in 2015 and 2016, left tackle in 2017), O’Neill only has three full years of applicable offensive lineman experience under his belt.
The former basketball player came to Pitt as a tight end, and even played wide receiver in high school, before bulking up to play in the trenches. Having that sort of skillful background gives O’Neill the athletic baseline needed to succeed at tackle in the NFL, and it would be no surprise if he comes out of next month’s Scouting Combine as a highly coveted player after blowing away the competition during Combine workouts.
The pure athleticism is there, but how does O’Neill (#70) fare in terms of natural ability to play either left or right tackle?
First and foremost, his swift, smooth footwork stand out as a trait that should translate well to the NFL.
Having superior footwork should come as no surprise given O’Neill’s athletic background, and having the groundwork to build off of it should net him some success at the next level.
O’Neill’s athleticism was regularly on display last season, whether when he was required to pull and block at the second level, or block 20+ yards downfield on a screen.
Clearly, the raw, natural athleticism is there. As mentioned, O’Neill is listed at 305 pounds, but realistically needs to be around 320 pounds (around Ronnie Stanley’s range) to level up to the competition in the NFL.
Can O’Neill keep the same nimble footwork and speed at a higher weight?
That remains to be seen.
Moving on to the downside of O’Neill’s story (three years of in-game lineman experience, not a lineman by nature), is his core technique as a blocker that needs to be improved upon over time. O’Neill’s inconsistencies as a blocker stem from his tendencies to reach for the opponent instead of staying put and being confident in his blocking abilities.
This is a negative trait that can certainly be fixed, but will take time. O’Neill’s lack of strength as a blocker is on display at times as well, but if he can pack on 15 or so quality pounds before the start of the 2018 season, he will position himself well enough for a respectable rookie year.
In terms of O’Neill as a Ravens target, it would be easy to see the match for multiple reasons. The Ravens love versatile offensive linemen (O’Neill has starting experience at both left and right tackle) and 2017 free agent addition Austin Howard struggled down the stretch last season. Howard is far from an issue in terms of needing an immediate upgrade, but his starting job in 2018 is also likely not set in stone at this point.
The 16th overall pick for O’Neill may be a stretch for him given his inexperience, but as mentioned, it would not be a surprise to see him test abnormally well at the Combine, and there will be a point where his athleticism cannot be ignored.
Even if O’Neill is not a top target for Baltimore at 16, he is worth having on their radar as he would pair well with Stanley to give the Ravens two athletic offensive tackles to build the offensive line around.