Leon O’Neal is a former 4-star prospect that is from the Houston area. O’Neal was a highly touted recruit that was known for his big-time hits. O’Neal is a senior prospect that has been a key contributor that has played a significant amount of snaps since his freshman year for the Aggies. At Texas A&M, O’Neal has developed a reputation of being the enforcer of the defense. Delivering big-time hits that resulted in penalties and talking smack after is a part of O’Neal’s identity as a football player. In the Aggies’ defensive scheme, O’Neal lines up at both free and strong safety, but he is most impactful when he can play close to the line of scrimmage. When O’Neal is close to the line of scrimmage, he is an effective run defender that seeks contact. In pass coverage, O’Neal is able to roam the field free of responsibilities and is able to get eyes on the quarterback. O’Neal oftentimes is a step slow to actually make a play on the ball for an interception or pass break-up but arrives in enough time to deliver a big-time hit to jar the ball loose from the receiver. On the next level, O’Neal has all of the traits to become a key special teams player while he continues to develop his coverage skills.
Ideal Role: As an in-the-box safety with primary responsibilities to stop the run.
Scheme Fit: Primarily zone system where he can be responsible for short-to-intermediate zones.
Written by Keith Sanchez
Games watched: Alabama (2021), Ole Miss (2021), Mississippi State (2021), Kent State (2021), LSU (2021)
Best Game Studied: Kent State (2021)
Worst Game Studied: Mississippi State (2021)
Football IQ: O’Neal plays the game with intensity but can be reckless at times with his decisions. O’Neal takes chances that can result in really good pays but also really bad ones. In zone coverage, O’Neal is easily influenced to leave his zone to try to make a play on the ball, which can lead to the A&M defense giving up big plays because the offense throws the ball right to the void he left.
Tackling: O’Neal is a big hitter by nature. He runs the alley full speed with the intention of delivering a big hit to ball-carriers. This technique results in negative plays because he often overruns ball-carriers and is easily susceptible to quick cuts that make him miss. O’Neal sells out on the big hit, but it makes him a low-percentage tackler.
Versatility: At Texas A&M, O’Neal plays both free and strong safety, but his skill set fits more for strong safety, O’Neal is a quick reactor to run plays and pulls his trigger quickly to play downhill. He has good closing speed to ball-carriers to make it to a contact point. As a free safety, O’Neal makes a limited amount of plays but is there most of the time to jar the ball loose from a receiver attempting to make a catch.
Range: O’Neal has good range as a run defender. He can start off at free safety and on the snap of the ball roll down into the box and track the ball-carrier. He possesses good closing speed to the ball-carrier, which places him around the ball-carrier all the time. O’Neal is a sideline-to-sideline player that gives max effort to make tackles.
Ball Skills: If in place to make an interception, O’Neal has the catching ability to intercept the ball. But overall, O’Neal’s ball production is limited. At free safety, he has the opportunity to scan the field and make plays on the ball, but he seems to always be a step slow to being in place to make an interception. O’Neal’s ball-tracking ability is also in question because there were multiple plays of him misjudging the ball in the air.
Run Defending: O’Neal’s biggest impact on the game is as a run defender. O’Neal has a quick twitch and bursts toward the line of scrimmage to fill his run responsibility. O’Neal runs alleys full speed. This leads to him either making the big hit or missing the ball-carrier altogether. O’Neal rarely properly breaks down to make the proper tackle in space.
Functional Athleticism: As the free safety, O’Neal can flip his hip and run to keep up with receivers running deep posts and corners. O’Neal is not an exceptional athlete but is functional enough to give a team reps at both safety positions. There is evidence of slight hip stiffness that affects how quickly he changes direction in the open field.
Competitive Toughness: O’Neal competes at a high level throughout the game. He is a max-effort player that will seek to make plays sideline to sideline. O’Neal has a reputation for being a vocal leader of the defense and likes to trash talk opponents.
Flexibility: O’Neal is a good athlete but his flexibility limits him from a positional versatility standpoint. O’Neal is a functional free safety but has stiffness in his hips that affects his ability to quickly make speed turns in reacting to routes by wide receivers. He shows signs that he may struggle to match up with receivers in man-to-man coverage.
Special Teams Ability: O’Neal has all of the traits that should make him a great special teams player. O’Neal is a physical player that seeks high-speed collisions. He also has a natural instinct to find the ball-carrier while running full speed. In the NFL, he should be an immediate impact player on special teams.
TDN Consensus: 70.25/100 (Fifth Round Value)
Crabbs Grade: 71.50/100
Sanchez Grade: 69.00/100