Skip to main content

Is Evan Neal Salvegable as an Offensive Tackle?

We take a look back at Neal's college tape and see where the drop-off in his performance happened.

The tension surrounding New York Giants second-year right tackle Evan Neal is palpable. He has only suited up for a handful of games this season due to injuries. In the games before his first injury, Neal had times where he struggled mightily but also times where he performed well, but the only thing that gets talked about is when he gives up sacks.

There have been a lot of debates about whether Neal is an NFL offensive tackle, and in a piece from earlier this year, I outlined why I believe he should be playing left guard. However, general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll both seem committed to him playing tackle, so it is important to identify key elements that have led to his struggles and why I do believe there is light at the end of the tunnel for Neal as a tackle for the Giants.

Let's start this breakdown by returning to his roots at Alabama. This time, we focus on his 2020 season, where he played right tackle for the tide. In the CFP Championship against Ohio State, we saw Neal perform against high-level competition.

The Alabama offense was not predicated on a bunch of straight drop-back passes, but you can see what he could get away with because he was a superior athlete to the competition.

He had a tendency to open his hips and shoulders, but most collegiate edge rushers could not get around him in time to impact the play. He would also hold his hands high, which resulted in his hand placement being higher up on the defender's shoulders than you would recommend.

As a pro, those things he got away with at Alabama have returned to bite him. The NFL uses a lot more wide 9-tech edge rushers and the speed rush as its primary pass-rush weapon. So Neal has to kick slide faster and cleaner to combat this rush.

When he opens the gate (turns his hips and shoulders), he sets an edge that the defenders use to get around him. His high hand placement also allows them to fake high, duck under his pass pro punch, and use hand fighting to knock his hands away. The result has been more consistent pressure on the quarterback whenever the defender can attack Neal's upfield or right shoulder.

It also sets up the counter off the speed rush, where the defender works back inside. Because Neal has to get his massive frame moving in one direction, he is not always balanced to post back down after his kick slides. He ends up chasing. These clips against Arizona and Miami illustrate the issues.

However, fans should stop pretending that Neal is simply a turnstile for defensive ends to collect sacks against Giants quarterbacks. Identifying success for Neal seems as simple as watching where he engaged defenders in pass protection.

If he can keep his outside (right hand and foot) outside of the defender, it normally results in successful protection. In those same two games, Neal provided plenty of clips of him stoning rushers when he could get himself in the proper position between the pass rusher and the quarterback.

Yes, he still opens the gate, and his hand placement is still high, but when he makes the defenders rush him down the middle of his body, his size, power, and athleticism allow him to win consistently.

What should excite Giants fans about Neal progressing into a great right tackle is how he returned from injury against the Las Vegas Raiders and, more specifically, pass rusher extraordinaire Maxx Crosby.

In several one-on-one situations, Neal thrived. Was he perfect? Absolutely not--but who has been against Crosby? Neal was, however, highly effective. In a game where the Raiders had the upper hand most of the contest, Neal looked composed and patient.

He was getting into position early and dictating the action rather than being reactionary. He worked well against the speed rush and the stunts that the defense tried to involve him in. He did a good job of adjusting to spin moves as well.

The final clip of that series of plays against Crosby is where Neal injured himself again. We have not seen him back on the field since, and there's a good chance we may not see him back on the field this year.

If that is the last we see of Neal this season, it will undoubtedly be disappointing. However, that does not mean there would not be reason for optimism.

If he can perform like that against Crosby, it means he can perform at a high level against any pass rusher. Another offseason may be just what the doctor ordered for the on-field and off-field sustainability of the former top-10 pick in the draft.