One of the constants for the Minnesota Vikings over the last several seasons is the inconsistency of the offensive line. This post isn’t being written to debate the achievements or the failings of GM Rick Spielman’s offensive line rebuild plans, because I’ve done enough of those in the past.
And I’m going to need some off-season material to write about so we’re keeping that powder dry for now, haha.
Overall, I think he’s had a couple of decent hits in free agency (For the most part Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers played well last year), he got one good year out of Matt Kalil before injuries took their toll (but overall not a good pick), and although Pat Elflein has had a subpar year as he is still coming back from two off-season surgeries, I think he will be a fixture on the line for a long time.
And yeah, there have been misses. Lots of them, especially in the later rounds of the draft, and rebuild plans that blew up before past seasons even started. At the end of last year, the line still needed to be addressed at one or two positions, and most fans and experts felt the Vikings needed to take an offensive lineman early in last year’s draft.
In the second round, the Vikings picked RT Brian O’Neill out of Pitt, and the near universal consensus was that he would need a year to get bulked up to be able to handle the competition at the NFL level, but long term was probably a good pick. But folks who wanted an offensive lineman selected weren’t happy with the pick, because it wasn’t O’Neill they wanted, or the position he plays.
And in their defense, they had a point. The Vikings had two tackles coming back from last year in Reiff and Remmers...until they moved Remmers inside to guard, but whatever. Even then, the Vikings still planned on Rashod Hill starting at right tackle, as he got a lot of playing time late last year and in the playoffs, and did okay.
Hill struggled with injuries and consistency early, and when O’Neill went in, he stood out. He saw significant playing time in the Vikings win at Philadelphia, then got the start in week six against Arizona, and has started every game since then.
And he’s played pretty well. How well? I’m glad you asked.
#Vikings RT Brian O’Neill is on the verge of doing something special— A〽️aron B〽️loch (@PFF_Aaron) December 17, 2018
In the @PFF era: 2006-18
➡️ Most pass blocks played by a rookie OT without allowing a sack
-Ryan Clady: 654
-Joe Thomas: 571
-Brian O’Neill: 426
-Rob Havenstein: 369https://t.co/vdaNZ9esLN pic.twitter.com/p3ru7TNbNv
But sacks aren’t everything, we’re told. Pressure on the QB is almost as important. How well has he done there? According to PFF, he’s given up a total of 28 pressures on a total of 457 pass block plays, or a rate of six percent, with no sacks given up.
Well, how good is he compared to other rookie linemen starting?
At this juncture, #Vikings rookie Brian O'Neill is tied with Orlando Brown Jr as the 5th-highest PFF graded rookie lineman (min 200 snaps)— Luke Braun (@LukeBraunNFL) December 17, 2018
Yes, yes, grain of salt and all that with PFF numbers, I get it, but the bottom line is that O’Neill is playing a lot better a lot earlier than most people expected, and although Minnesota will need to upgrade the interior of the offensive line, center and right tackle seem to be set for the near future.