In the months before the 2022 NFL draft, Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal was being touted as the best player in the draft and could possibly be the top pick come draft day.
As usual, most of the noise before the draft turned out to be just that — noise. Neal was not taken first overall, falling to No. 7, where the New York Giants gladly scooped him up.
Six teams — including the Giants, who had the fifth overall selection — passed on Neal in the early part of the first round but that is no reflection on the 21-year-old. He is considered by many to be the best lineman in this class.
The Giants felt strongly about Neal not only because of his size (6’7″, 350 pounds) but because of his agility and versatility.
Neal is unusually nimble and athletic for his size and as a result, played multiple positions for the Crimson Tide during his college career.
Thus far this spring, the Giants have been lining Neal up at right tackle but that could change as times passes.
Kyle Flood, the former head coach at Rutgers who coached Neal at Alabama in 2019-20, believes the Giants will find that Neal can help the in multiple ways.
“I think he can fit in just about anywhere,” Flood said recently on the Giants Huddle podcast. “He’s a very unique combination of size, flexibility and explosion. I think that’s why he can play both.
“When you play guard, you really need to be a short area explosive player to win the line of scrimmage inside. Everything kind of happens faster in there than it does at tackle. But at tackle, you have to have the spatial awareness, you have to have the length, you have to have the ability to stop and start your body in space, and he does that really well, too. Left side, right side, he can play either side. Guard, tackle, he can be a really effective player I think at any of those four spots. I think the Giants will find that as they work with him through minicamp and training camp.”
That’s a huge life for Big Blue, who are in the midst of an offensive line rebuild.
“I do think, obviously, there will be a transition going into the NFL, there’s no question. Now you’re playing against the best players in the world, not just the best players in your conference, so there will certainly be a transition,” Flood said. “But he’ll make that transition really smooth because he has been preparing himself to be a professional athlete for a long time. I will say this, he is certainly maybe a little more reserved in how he will speak at times, but when he speaks in that locker room and in that position, I promise you that those other players will listen to him. They know it will come from the right place.”
Another former first round pick, Andrew Thomas, is the current starting left tackle but should Neal prove to be a better option there, don’t be surprised if the Giants flip the two at some point in the future.
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