It’s the dog days of the NFL offseason, so lists, predictions, and conjecture are all in order. Pete Prisco of CBS recently made his top-100 NFL player list, and it got me thinking what any reasonable Minnesota Vikings fan would think: Who got snubbed?
The three Vikings who made Prisco’s top 100 are Justin Jefferson (13), Dalvin Cook (41), and Harrison Smith (99). Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter are honorable mentions. Considering about three players per team would be league average (100/32 = 3.125), it’s no surprise that a team with an over/under of 8.5 wins this season has three qualifiers.
Many Minnesota players don’t get the national media’s attention, so it’s worth exploring if there is a fair number on the list.
The name that comes to mind is Brian O’Neill, who isn’t discussed nearly enough. The stud right tackle who’s been the lone bright spot on their offensive line for some time. O’Neill is undoubtedly one of the best players on the Vikings’ roster, and it’s not only because of his talent. There’s a reason he’s the second-highest-paid player on the team behind Cousins.
First and foremost, O’Neill has not missed one game due to injury in his career as a starter. That’s the most important factor for me, but not necessarily for the national media. There are many injury-prone players on this list who are expected to be great this coming season. Cook is a prime example. Durability isn’t often a characteristic the experts consider when ranking players.
On an offensive line that lacks clout, O’Neill must be an anchor on the right side. Minnesota’s O-line has lacked talent — and a steady right guard — for years.
The OL was much better (meaning average) last year than the past few seasons, especially at run-blocking. There are a few reasons for that. For starters, C.J. Ham is an exceptional run-blocker, and Cook helps make them look good because of his ability to escape tackles. In reality, I don’t think that somewhere around No. 20-25 is an unreasonable ranking for the Vikings’ line.
So, does O’Neill belong in a list of the top 100 NFL players?
Unfortunately, right tackles are not as valuable as left tackles. But as far as right tackles go, O’Neill is among the best. He’s right up there with Lane Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles) and Ryan Ramczyk (New Orleans Saints). But O’Neill is consistently underrated. He only allowed one sack last season, and Johnson was the only full-time starter to allow zero.
But right tackles will always be considered less essential to the O-line unless their quarterback is left-handed. In a world where every position has equal value, there’s a good chance O’Neill could make a top 100 list. He’d at least be an honorable mention. But that’s not the case. Besides, there’s good reason to believe he will be after this season.
O’Neill, 26, is entering his prime and probably has the best supporting cast of his career. The Vikings will determine their right guard in camp, but all the other positions are locked in, and there hasn’t been much change this year. That’s good for chemistry. My only concern is that Garrett Bradbury won’t improve.
Still, Minnesota’s O-line can be a good unit and that benefits O’Neill. He’s had to deal with sub-par talent around him, he’s getting paid like the top RT he is, and O’Neill should only get better, barring circumstances beyond his control. The fact that right tackle is underappreciated in the NFL doesn’t mean that O’Neill isn’t a great player – even though he didn’t make Prisco’s list. He is easily a top-five player on the Vikings and a cornerstone for the offense.