Big man after big man fell off the board Friday during the NFL draft.
The Vikings watched as an early run of offensive linemen — including four in the first seven picks Friday — thinned the top of their draft board.
One name, Brian O’Neill out of Pittsburgh, stayed put.
So did the Vikings.
The Vikings drafted O’Neill, a hulking 6-foot-7, 297-pound tackle, with their second-round pick (62nd overall) to address the offensive line. Quarterback Kirk Cousins didn’t wait to endorse the pick.
“Before anyone answers for me, yes, I liked that,” Cousins wrote on his verified Twitter account.
By the time the Vikings drafted Friday, O’Neill was the 12th offensive lineman taken.
“There was a big run, obviously,” said Jamaal Stephenson, Vikings’ director of college scouting. “I’ve never seen that many offensive guards go this high in the draft.”
The problem: The Vikings were among many teams needing one. General Manager Rick Spielman was open to drafting a guard or tackle Friday given the flexibility of Mike Remmers to start at either position for the Vikings.
The pick ended up being a tackle in O’Neill, who played on both the left and right side at the University of Pittsburgh. Spielman traded the Vikings’ third-round pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for the second pick in the fourth-round (102nd overall) and the sixth pick in the sixth-round (180th).
They’ll have seven picks on Saturday to add to a draft class topped with cornerback Mike Hughes, the first-round pick, and O’Neill.
A Wilmington, Del., native, O’Neill is athletic for his massive size. He started his college career as a tight end before moving to tackle before the 2015 season.
O’Neill topped all offensive linemen at the combine in a couple athletic tests, including the 40-yard dash (4.82) and the three-cone drill (7.14).
“Very athletic kid,” Stephenson said. “Was an unbelievable high school basketball player. Mom and dad are both college athletes. Comes from an athletic family.”
Athleticism is part of the Vikings’ prototype for offensive linemen.
They’re running a “movement-based” offense under coordinator John DeFilippo, according to Stephenson, which is in line with traits they emphasized under Pat Shurmur and a zone-blocking scheme. Last year’s addition of center Pat Elflein, the mobile ex-Buckeyes lineman, made an immediate impact on the screen game and interior runs.
Stephenson said O’Neill could bring a similar impact, down the road, if not right away, as a rookie like Elflein did.
“Probably the best athlete of all the offensive linemen in this draft,” Stephenson said. “You watch him get out and pull, it’s unbelievable how fast he moves and the ability to change directions.”
O’Neill said he’s focused on refining his footwork. The Vikings also likely will want him to gain some weight. He was 297 pounds at the combine.
His speed could help him keep up with NFL edge rushers.
“One of my strong suits — being able to protect the edge,” O’Neill said Friday. “Obviously with the new quarterback in town, Kirk Cousins, that’s a big deal. Protecting him is my most important job now. I take it very seriously.”
The Vikings can start O’Neill as a developmental tackle behind Remmers, or if he’s a quick study shift Remmers inside to right guard.
The 22-year-old left Pittsburgh a year early. He’s the second former Pittsburgh tackle convert to be drafted by the Vikings in recent years. The other was T.J. Clemmings in 2015.
For O’Neill, converting from tight end to tackle meant a greater focus on precision.
“At offensive tackle, if you don’t do your job, the play is busted,” O’Neill said. “Where at tight end, you can run a route, not get open and they can throw the ball somewhere else.”
O’Neill said he left college before his senior season for something new.
“Ready for a new challenge,” O’Neill said.
The Vikings are ready to give him one.