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Prepping for NFL since age 15, Evan Neal ready to embrace his moment

Neal touts versatility, dependability

NFL: Scouting Combine
Evan Neal
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Neal had no shot at beating North Carolina State’s Ickey Ekwonu when his turn came to speak to media Thursday morning at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.

Ekwonu knocked his media session out of the park, or more precisely out of the Indiana Convention Center, displaying an outgoing personality that would make him an immediate media darling if he were to be drafted by the New York Giants.

Neal, though, a mountainous offensive tackle from Alabama, might beat Ekwonu to the podium in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was impressive Thursday in his own way.

The bespectacled 6-foot-7, 336-pound Neal was thoughtful, well-spoken and exuded confidence during his time in front of the microphone.

He knows he could be the first overall pick, and judging from the number of Jacksonville Jaguars writing peppering him with questions, they know it, too. Neal isn’t, though, obsessing about that.

“Wherever I get drafted I’ll be extremely happy. What prospect would’t want to go number one? That would be a dream come true for sure. But whatever team calls my name I will be extremely happy and extremely grateful,” Neal said.

“I feel like I’ll be able to come in and make an impact immediately like I did at Alabama. Everything will present its challenges and I’m going to have my growing pains, but as I get acclimated to the speed of the game I feel like for sure I’ll be able to make that adjustment.”

If Neal goes first overall, he will — almost unbelievably — be the first Alabama player to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft since Harry Gilmer in 1948. Joe Namath went No. 1 overall in the 1965 AFL Draft.

That is an honor that has his attention.

“It would mean everything,” Neal said. “There are a whole lot of Alabama players who were worthy of being drafted in that spot. For it to be me would be really special. Make the whole state of Alabama proud, the university for sure.”

If he were to go first overall to the Jaguars, he would almost certainly play left tackle. If he lasted until No. 5 and were taken by the Giants, that would mean a move to right tackle. That is a spot Neal played a lot early in his Alabama career.

“I bring versatility. You can pretty much plug me in anyplace other than center. I had 39 starts at Alabama, started as a true freshman, and I have a lot of game experience for sure,” Neal said. “I learned to be versatile. Sometimes not everything is the way you want it but you do what is best for the team. I feel like it all helped me out in the long run for sure.

“I was recruited as the number one offensive tackle coming out of high school but immediately got moved to left guard and I just embraced it. I did my best. I anticipated playing left tackle my sophomore year but I moved to the right side. It had its own challenges but I embraced it. Junior year, left tackle. I’ll play wherever I’m asked. I see myself as a tackle for sure but like I said I’ll do whatever my team needs me to do.”

Neal has been preparing for his NFL career since he left his Okeechobee, Fla. home at the age of 15 to play at IMG Academy.

“It was tough leaving the house at 15 years old, living on your own for the first time, but it was all part of the plan. Playing in the NFL has always been a dream of mine and I knew IMG Academy would put me in the best position to be able to do that,” Neal said. “It put me on a collegiate routine. At IMG you are on a routine, a schedule, so it gave me a birds eye view of what that would be like. My dad was really really instrumental in my recruitment process and he always told me that Alabama and Coach Saban had a system, a system that works. I trusted his judgment. On signing day I picked up that Alabama hat and the rest is history.”

Neal will not be working out this week at the Combine.