Brennan O'Neill

The Brennan O’Neill question: Which position will top pick play for Outlaws?

By Topher Adams | May 16, 2024

Brennan O’Neill had to be the pick. The Denver Outlaws had a bigger need behind the cage, but O’Neill’s once-in-a-generation talent was too tantalizing to pass up. 

“When we look at O’Neill, and we look at big moments in games, we're like, ‘Is there a guy like him playing in the PLL right now?’ ” Outlaws head coach Tim Soudan said shortly before taking the Duke sensation first overall in the 2024 College Draft.

Talent won over fit. But now comes the fun part: How does O’Neill fit into the Outlaws offense?

O’Neill is one of the best dodgers in the world, regardless of age or position. He’s a good shooter and off-ball finisher, but at his best, he’s creating high-level scoring chances for himself through skill, athleticism and willpower.

The question remains, though: Is O’Neill’s dodging ability best utilized at attack or in the midfield? 

As an attackman, O’Neill will get more opportunities with the stick in his hand. He’ll stay on the field and get looks on almost every possession on the lefty wing. 

Only one of the top 10 scorers in the PLL last season predominantly ran out of the box (Utah’s Tom Schreiber). The likes of Connor Fields, Asher Nolting and Mac O’Keefe all saw their production increase drastically when moving back to attack from midfield. Even if O’Neill is a great midfielder, he will get the ball far more often in dangerous spots as an attackman.

O’Neill played his entire college career as an attackman. He’s one of the best players in Duke history and won the Tewaaraton Award in 2023.

But we’ve also seen O’Neill thrive in the midfield, including with Team USA last summer. He scored four goals against Team Canada in the gold medal game at the World Lacrosse Championships. O’Neill won tournament MVP with 14 goals and five assists.

“You look at the World Games and you see what O'Neill was able to do out of the midfield, and that would create some significant matchup issues,” Soudan said. 

Midfield play was a problem for the Outlaws last season. Sam Handley struggled in his rookie season facing mostly long poles. The former Penn star shot just 1-for-18 against poles compared to 8-for-22 against short sticks. Justin Anderson also had a down season by his standards.

O’Neill immediately becomes the most dangerous dodger in Denver’s midfield. In addition to his own dynamism, his presence should open opportunities for others. Handley, especially, should benefit from facing more short sticks to utilize his massive size and playmaking abilities.

Even though he plays as an attackman for the Blue Devils, O’Neill still scores a lot of goals from midfield positions. This goal against Syracuse in the ACC tournament is a straight alley dodge, and the defense is helpless to stop it:

O’Neill would be an excellent attackman, but in the short term, his home may be as a midfielder. For the Outlaws, he fills a need for a dynamic midfielder who can score at an elite level. The midfield may get the best out of O’Neill, as well. 

Some attackmen are wasted when forced to run out of the box, but midfielder allows O’Neill to do so much of what he’s great at. He can use his rare power/speed combination to get downhill. He’s shown a special ability for shooting on the run and getting to the cage.

With O’Neill running out of the box, Denver’s offensive pieces fit great on paper. A midfield of O’Neill, Handley and Anderson is as talented as it is complementary. On the attack line, Logan Wisnauskas and Cross Ferrara will provide scoring from the lefty and righty wing, respectively. 

Behind the cage is still something of a question, but third-round rookie Josh Zawada and former Utah Archer Connor DeSimone could both be productive X attackmen in the PLL.

Midfield may seem like something of a demotion for a player of O’Neill’s talent, but running out of the box could be the ideal fit for Denver and its prodigious rookie superstar.