Evan Neal film study: Lots to be excited about and one concern

the New York Giants selected Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal with his second first-round pick at No. 7. It was no secret that the Giants were in the market for supplies after the decade-long revolving door on the side right of the Giants’ offense. Neal was the only tackle of the big three – Ikem Ekownu and Charles Cross – with experience on the right side.

Neal was a consensus five-star recruit from the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida. He was the highest-ranked tackler of the 2019 cycle, and he was the right starting tackler for the Alabama Crimson Tide in their 2020 National Championship season.

As a true freshman, Neal walked onto the Alabama campus and played 723 snaps at left guard. In 2020, he played 765 snaps at right tackle and 23 at left tackle, before playing 1,071 snaps at left tackle in 2021. Neal is not only versatile; he is also gigantic and incredibly athletic; he ranked No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s ‘Freaks’ list heading into the 2021 season.

Few humans have this height and athletic ability, and few people weigh 340 pounds and look 270. Neal is exceptionally smooth in pass protection for a player of his height and length. He explodes out of position and gains needed depth in his sets while varying his striking methods to keep pass-rushers honest.

There’s a lot to enjoy and look forward to with Evan Neal. Let’s join his band.

(Evan Neal is No. 73)

Pass Protection

It shows the sparkle and depth Neal can gain in his sets; Neal explodes off his pole leg (inside of the leg) with smooth power. It’s more of a vertical set where it matches the path of the pass-rushers and keeps its inner hand alive and patient on an island, just in case the pass-rusher attempts to move in that direction. Neal is controlled, balanced in his set, and he’s disciplined with his punch because if he dictates and tries to attack – and misses – the pass-rusher has a back and forth. The pass-rusher tries to hit the long arm move and back inside. We see the pass-rusher couple in their attempt, but Neal is too strong; he lands on his hips, gets inside on the pass-rusher and doesn’t leave much room.

I like Neal’s patience on this game against Arkansas. He’s disciplined with his hips, his feet move smoothly – quietly – down the arc, then he attacks with good timing once the pass thrower dips his inside shoulder. Neal splits the defender, mirrors the rotation while being light on his feet, then doesn’t allow the defender to flee.

Here is a similar game on an island, using patience and showing excellent grip strength. Once Neal has access inside, those 10 ⅛ inch hands are tough to break. His feet get a little closer and narrower while going through his set, but the grip strength and ease of sitting on his anchor is excellent.

Neal quickly places the Georgian defender and attacks him from the jump with a two-handed punch. The defender tries to stutter and presents his chest long enough for Neal to attack. One of the things I like about Neal is his ability to vary his attack plan; he can strike with two hands in a flash, sit down and be patient, or strike and put back in place. In this play, he strikes, gets inside and simply closes in on the Georgian defender to restrict any space while grounding the shoving attempt.

Neal’s footwork in contact on this play isn’t great. His feet are very narrow and close together, and he rushes a little on contact. However, Neal lands the outside arm punch right in the middle of the pass-rusher’s center line, then uses his excellent game strength to press the pass-rusher’s bench and stop his movement. Neal restored his hands after stopping the rush, and there was not much the defender could do at that point.

Pieces like this make me passionate about Neal. It gently launches the arc and matches the trajectory of the edge rusher; he stays square until that third step hits, and he times his outside punch well. Then we see the pass-rusher just stopped; all attempts to escape Neal have failed. Great footwork, a solid punch, and Thanos’ grip strength.

Azeez Ojulari’s brother BJ attempts to stutter on Neal, who sees the open chest and punches aggressively. In previous GIFs (how do you pronounce it with a G or a J?), we saw Neal sit and be patient on an island. Here we see him hit when the opportunity arises, and it completely changes Ojulari’s passing rush. Neal punches, turns his hips and knocks him away from the pocket.

Neal takes on Travon Walker (44) and breaks up Walker’s long arm attempt with a snatch and trap attempt. Neal quickly closed the distance by 45 degrees heading towards Walker. Once Walker tries to use his lower leg drive, Neal breaks wrist contact and Walker’s momentum goes forward.

Neal has a good general anchoring. I wouldn’t call it elite; he can sometimes be pushed back, but he handles this jostling well. He does a solid job of sitting up on his haunches and lowering his weight back down to absorb more contact. His devastating hands also aid his ability to sit down and block rushers from unleashing their power.

Against the TWISTS

Walker, the No. 1 overall pick, twists from the nose tackle position in Neal’s area. Neal straddles Technique 5 into the guard and lands his outside arm on Walker, who wins the battle at the pad and tries to get through Neal. Walker uses the inside long arm technique to unlock his power, but Neal exploits the move with a hard inside arm slash at just the right moment to break contact and force Walker’s momentum down – again. Neal doesn’t panic, and he absorbs the contact.

Neal watched the film and knew the peak rusher in the cover meant exotic pressure was coming from another angle. He turned his attention inside and located eventual first-round selection Devonte Wyatt. Neal showed good treatment, understanding Georgia’s intentions and easily locating Wyatt from the inside.

Neal is a little late to recognize this twist, but its length lets it get the job done. Neal engages Walker and leads him to the guard. He noticed the looper and exploded off his inside foot to make contact and disrupt the defensive lineman’s path. Its overall length and size allow it to be a bit late, which is inconsistent with its film.

Run blocker

Neal is a good run blocker overall, but he’s better at pass protection due to the balance issues that show up on the boards when he’s engaged in contact and moves laterally. However, this was not a persistent problem throughout his film. With his mountain size, one would imagine he couldn’t descend and win with leverage in short distance situations.

This is not necessarily the case; on the right side of the screen, Neal blasts the ball low and drives through the defensive lineman’s midline, showing excellent playing strength and lower leg drive to clear the way for a Brian Robinson touchdown (4).

Neal blocks Zach Carter (6) very well to recover it from behind. Carter was a 4i technique, and Carter made good contact with his outside hand. Despite this, Neal rotates his hips around Carter and creates the seal in all three holes to give Robinson the space to burst.

From the back after a defensive change, Neal is able to adjust and block the 4i technique. Neal is able to cross the face of the defender and overpower the defender while putting his inside hand to the chest. The fairway defender makes a great play from deep, but Neal was able to adjust and block the defensive turn well from a difficult angle.

Neal is able to leap past the defender and reach his outside shoulder after making initial contact on the inside shoulder. Neal rotates his hips then pushes the defender out of the way of the ball carrier. Good result, but we see how Neal’s chest is well above his toes at the point of contact and he doesn’t always bring his feet through contact when engaging. This is one of the reasons for the problems that we will discuss later.

Like Andrew Thomas, Neal does very well as a playside blocker in power/spread concepts. The ability to generate force through defenders lined up inside on low blocks is impressive, as we see above. Neal places his hands inside and angles his hips well to engage his strength and drive through his target.

Finishing capacity

Ikem Ekwonu is a superior block finisher in the running game, but Neal is no scrub in this area.

This is an RPO where we could see Neal shoot. Neal locates the linebacker who went in the hole, and the huge new giant pushes the defender into the bridge.

Here’s another RPO block where Evan Neal works the DEUCE combo with the guard and finishes with authority, driving the defender into the dirt.

Here’s another DEUCE combo block against Arkansas where he puts the defender back on the ground.

Concerns

Leaning into contact was a problem for Neal in college. Not terrible, but that happened more than I would have liked.

This is a third and a game against Georgia where Neal explodes off the ball, and a much smaller defender uses Neal’s forward momentum and poor technique against him to separate. He’s not always balanced with his movements in the running game in situations like this.

Neal is the game-side kick block; he places his chest in front of his feet and hips and leans too much. He backs up the smaller defender, and the Bulldog concedes space but just works around the block, and Neal goes down.

Neal attempts to work the DEUCE combo block with the guard. The Florida defender puts his hands in Neal’s chest and puts Neal on the ground. Neal found himself on the ground a little too often, which was mostly down to balance issues and some plays like this where he looked like he was caught off guard by the force of an opposing player.

Neal goes inside to block technique 5 from the back. The defender adapts well to his hands and sets Neal up; Neal does not refocus and comes to equilibrium. It stays high, starts to lean and allows the defender to get rid of the block.

This doesn’t happen too much in pass protection, but there are times when his pad level can be exposed if he starts leaning on contact, as we see above. He usually plays well in his frame in pass protection, but he almost loses to an inside bump hit here against Florida.

Final Thoughts

Neal is a one-man mountain with two redwoods strapped to his torso. He is explosive, with quick feet, excellent power and strong hands to grip. He’s fundamentally solid with his hand technique with a devastating punch to stun, and he’s a good all-around run blocker with plenty of positional versatility.

Neal got down more than I expected; he bends too much at the waist, and he’s not the most balanced player when forced to move in a lateral plane.

His height of 6’7 gives him a natural high center of gravity which makes him likely to counter rushes and trickier rushers. It’s not perfect, but it has a very high floor. Neal will be a good NFL football player for the Giants.

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