Former Pitt offensive lineman Brian O’Neill was the first Panther to come off the board at the 2018 NFL draft, as he was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round with the 62nd overall pick on Friday night. No Pitt offensive lineman has gone that high in the draft since Jeff Otah was taken by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2008 draft.
Shortly after O’Neill’s selection, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi reacted to the news.
“The Vikings organization not only drafted an outstanding player in Brian O’Neill, but also an exceptional person and leader,” Narduzzi said in a statement via Pitt football’s Twitter account.
“Incredibly, it was less than three years ago that we asked Brian to move from tight end to tackle just weeks before camp opened. He never hesitated and through hard work made himself an All-ACC offensive lineman and now an NFL draft pick. As good as he was at Pitt, I really think his best football is ahead of him. We are incredibly proud of Brian tonight.”
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins also shared his enthusiastic response to the pick.
Before anyone answers for me, yes, I like that. @brian_oneill_ welcome to the team!— Kirk Cousins (@KirkCousins8) April 28, 2018
Over the course of his Pitt career, O’Neill earned a reputation for his athleticism and will perhaps be best remembered for his 4.82-second 40-yard dash and the 24-yard touchdown run against Georgia Tech in 2016 that won him the Piesman Trophy. Of course, as Narduzzi alluded to in his statement, O’Neill’s versatility may be an even greater asset, as he was able to transition from tight end to offensive tackle and become an All-ACC player at the position.
O’Neill also has experience shifting between left and right tackle, as he spent almost the entirety of his first two seasons at right tackle before switching to left tackle in his final season in Pittsburgh. That adaptability could serve him well in Minnesota, where the retirement of right guard Joe Berger may cause some upheaval on the offensive line this offseason.
With O’Neill off the board, Pitt still has several former players who could be selected in the later rounds of the draft, as Quadree Henderson, Jaryd Jones-Smith, Avonte Maddox, Jester Weah and Jordan Whitehead have all drawn interest from NFL teams and remain available.
The final four rounds of the NFL draft will get underway Saturday at noon ET.