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Mel Kiper pegs Brian O’Neill as first-rounder in NFL draft

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Kiper’s mock draft has the Pitt lineman going to the Ravens

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Former Pitt offensive lineman Brian O’Neill may not have played his last game at Heinz Field. In fact, if the opinion of ESPN analyst Mel Kiper is anything to go by, he could be back at least once a year as an AFC North rival of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In a mock draft posted Thursday morning at ESPN.com, Kiper predicted O’Neill would be selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, going to the Baltimore Ravens at 16th overall.

The draft analyst broke down the rationale for his prediction:

Right tackle Austin Howard didn’t have a great year in pass protection, and the Ravens could find an immediate upgrade with O’Neill, a former tight end who kept his athleticism as he put on weight and moved to tackle. He was dominant on the left side at times this season after starting on the right in 2015 and 2016. O’Neill also could kick in and play guard.

If Kiper is correct, the lineman would be the first Panther taken in the first round since Aaron Donald, who was taken 13th overall by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2014. The selection would also land O’Neill, who hails from Wilmington, Delaware, about an hour away from his hometown and reunite him with former teammate Bam Bradley.

With that said, the chances are pretty slim Kiper called this one 100 percent correctly, based on his recent history. Between 2010 and 2014, the analyst correctly picked just eight out of 160 selections in his initial first-round mock drafts, according to Philly Voice.

But while Kiper hasn’t often pinned down the correct team in the first versions of his mock drafts, he’s still got an eye for first-round talent. In 2017, for instance, he correctly picked 27 out of 32 first-rounders. So at least that much bodes well for O’Neill.

This year’s NFL draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and the event will run from April 26 to 28.