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Brian O’Neill rated third-best rookie lineman in NFL

Pro Football Focus placed the Pitt product ahead of two former first-round draft picks

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Former Pitt offensive lineman Brian O’Neill saw regular playing time with the Minnesota Vikings over the past two weeks, and he acquitted himself well for the team at right tackle during that time. His performance also drew the attention of the staff of Pro Football Focus, which rated him the third-best rookie lineman so far this season with a grade of 67.3.

O’Neill was initially thrust into action after Vikings right tackle Rashod Hill suffered an ankle injury during the team’s matchup with the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 16. After entering the game in the third quarter, the Pitt product performed admirably, helping star quarterback Kirk Cousins mount a late comeback to even the score at 29.

O’Neill’s debut earned him a 68.7 grade from Pro Football Focus, which was 17 points higher than Hill’s grade in that game. It also happened to be the third best on the Vikings offensive line that day, trailing only veterans Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff by a relatively narrow margin.

The Pitt product finds himself in good company in the Pro Football Focus rookie ranking, as the only two linemen who placed ahead of him are Will Hernandez and Mike McGlinchey, the 34th and ninth overall picks in the 2018 NFL draft. He also placed ahead of two first-round picks in Quenton Nelson and Frank Ragnow, who went sixth overall and 20th overall, respectively.

For comparison, O’Neill went 62nd overall in the draft, and his selection was criticized at the time by some in the media.

”He’ll raise injury liability premiums for his quarterback as a left tackle but could be a stopgap on the right side or get the job done at guard,” said Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report. “This was an obvious need pick for the Vikings. But O’Neill is too much like the kind of slow-footed offensive line prospect that has gotten the team into trouble in the past.”

While it’s too early to determine if O’Neill will only serve as a stopgap on the Vikings line, he’s clearly demonstrated that he can hold his own at the pro level and, at the very least, he’s justified the team’s decision to take him in the second round of the draft.

As of Thursday night, O’Neill was back on the sidelines, as Hill had returned to action, having recovered from his injury. However, Cousins was sacked four times for a total loss of 30 yards, and the Vikings lost 38-31 to the Los Angeles Rams. With that in mind, it’s possible the team could turn to the rookie again in the near future.