2022 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Evan Neal
By Charlie Campbell
Summary: It can be hard for offensive linemen to start as freshman under Nick Saban, but Neal did that, and his freakish skill set is a big reason why. Truly, Neal is a mountain on the offensive line with his massive height and weight. To go along with the size, Neal is surprisingly quick and athletic for a big offensive lineman.
Neal was a star recruit out of Florida who ended up going to Alabama, like many other elite offensive line prep stars. As a true freshman, Neal broke into the starting lineup at left guard and had an impressive debut for the Crimson Tide. In 2020, he replaced Jedrick Wills at right tackle, and Neal helped Alabama to an undefeated season and the National Championship. He was a consistent pass protector for Mac Jones and opened a lot of holes for Najee Harris. Neal moved to left tackle as a junior in 2021, and he has had a good season in Alabama's loaded offense.
Neal is a load in the ground game, knocking defenders off the ball and riding them out of their gaps. He engulfs edge defenders and keeps them from flowing to the ball. Thanks to his ability to generate movement, Neal is an asset in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Fewer offensive linemen play with a mean streak in recent years, but that lesson was lost on Neal, who will get very physical and violent with defenders. With heavy hands, Neal shocks defenders, and he can manhandle defensive linemen at that point of attack. Neal looks to pancake them and is a bully on the field who really beats up opponents. Neal moves well for his size, but his size gives him some limitations to hit blocks on smaller defenders in space. Hence, he could be better in a power man-blocking scheme in the NFL.
In pass blocking, Neal is a real challenge for defenders to beat. His mass and length can make it hard for rushers to get around. Neal has enough athleticism to get depth in his drop and is not slow out of his stance. How Neal's heavy hands shock defenders with his hand strength really jumps out. When he latches on, defenders are in real trouble because he does an excellent job of sustaining blocks. It is a rare sight where a defender mananges to shed one of Neal's block, and Neal is a real asset to eliminate second efforts and maintains his block for long periods of time.
While Neal was a good pass protector overall in 2020 and 2021, he can have some problems with speed rushers. His feet can be a problem at time, failing him to get moving quickly enough, and that allows fast edge rushers to round the corner on him. As is common with some massive offensive linemen, Neal has change-of-direction issues and problems redirecting. Working on his feet and his ability to wall off speed rushers to the outside and inside are the big point of improvements for him in the NFL. Neal also has some balance issues, so that is another area to get better at, since an offensive lineman laying falling on the turf is useless.
Here is what an area scout said about Neal, "He's big, long, heavy-handed. He's not a gifted athlete; he's just so d*** big. He's a power guy. His feet worry me, and he doesn't have NFL left tackle feet. He has to win with body range and length. I would start him at right tackle and if that doesn't work kick him inside to guard."
Neal could end up as top-10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and he should go as one of the first 20 choices. If enough NFL teams feel Neal can stay at left tackle, that would help his chances of going high in the first round.
Player Comparison: Orlando Brown. Neal reminds me of Brown coming out of Oklahoma. Brown was a second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he should have been a first-rounder. I think Neal could be a similar style blocker to Brown as a pro.
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