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Evan Neal film study: A lot to be excited about, and one concern

A deep dive into what the Giants can expect from their new right tackle

2021 SEC Championship - Georgia v Alabama Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The New York Giants selected Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal with their second first-round pick at No. 7. There was no secret that the Giants were in the tackle market after the decade-long rotating door on the right side 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 out of the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida. He was the top-ranked tackle in the 2019 cycle, and he was the starting right tackle for the Alabama Crimson Tide in their 2020 National Championship season.

As a true freshman, Neal stepped onto Alabama’s 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 isn’t just versatile; he’s also gigantic and incredibly athletic; he ranked No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s ‘Freaks’ list heading into the 2021 season.

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

There’s a lot to appreciate and look forward to with Evan Neal. Let’s get into his tape.

(Evan Neal is No. 73)

Pass protection

This shows the burst and depth Neal can gain in his sets; Neal explodes off his post leg (inside leg) with power smoothly. This is more of a vertical set where he matches the pass-rushers path and keeps his inside hand live and patient while 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 attempts to attack - and misses - the pass-rusher has a two-way go. The pass-rusher attempts to hit the long-arm move and work back inside. We see the pass-rusher torque in his attempt, but Neal is too strong; he sinks back on his hips, gains access inside on the pass-rusher, and doesn’t allow much space.

I love the patience of Neal on this play against Arkansas. He is disciplined with his hips, his feet move smoothly - quietly - up the arc, and then he attacks with great timing once the pass-rusher dips his inside shoulder. Neal splits the defender, mirrors the spin while being light on his feet, and then doesn’t allow the defender to flee.

Here’s a similar play on an island, using patience and showing excellent grip strength. Once Neal gains access inside, those 10 ⅛-inch hands are hard to break. His feet get a little close and narrow while getting through his set, but the grip strength and easiness in sitting back on his anchor are excellent.

Neal quick-sets the Georgia defender and attacks him right off the jump with a two-hand punch. The defender attempts to stutter and presents his chest long enough for Neal to attack. One of the things I love about Neal is his ability to vary his attack plan; he can two-hand punch right at the snap, sit back and be patient, or strike and refit. In this play, he punches, gains access inside, and just pulls the Georgia defender close to restrict any space while anchoring through the bull-rush attempt.

Neal’s footwork into contact on this play isn’t great. His feet are very narrow and close together, and he lunges a bit into contact. However, Neal lands the outside arm punch right on the mid-line of the pass-rusher and then uses his excellent play strength to bench press the pass-rusher and halt his movement. Neal reestablished his hands after he halted the rush, and the defender could do little at that point.

Plays like this get me excited about Neal. He smoothly kicks up the arc and matches the path of the edge rusher; he stays square right until that third step hits, and he times his outside hand punch well. Then we see the pass-rusher just stopped; every attempt to evade Neal failed. Excellent footwork, solid strong punch, and the grip strength of Thanos.

Azeez Ojulari’s brother, BJ, attempts to stutter on Neal, who sees the open chest and aggressively punches. In previous GIFs (how do you pronounce it with a G or J?), we saw Neal sit back and use patience on an island. Here we see him strike when the opportunity presents itself, and it absolutely alters Ojulari’s pass-rush. Neal strikes, flips his hips, and rides him away from the pocket.

Neal faces up against Travon Walker (44) and breaks Walker’s long-arm attempt with a snatch and trap attempt. Neal quickly closed the distance by 45-degree setting out to Walker. Once Walker attempts to use his lower-leg drive, Neal breaks the wrist contact and Walker’s momentum goes forward.

Neal has a good overall anchor. I wouldn’t say it’s elite; he can get pushed back at times, but he handles this bull-rush well. He does a solid job sitting back on his hips and re-sinking his weight to absorb more contact. His devastating hands also assist his ability to sit back and stop rushers from unleashing power.

Against TWISTS

Walker, the No. 1 overall pick, twists from the nose tackle position into Neal’s area. Neal rides the 5-technique into the guard and lands his outside arm on Walker, who wins the pad-level battle and attempts to drive through Neal. Walker uses the inside long-arm technique to unlock his power, but Neal exploits the move with a well-timed violent chop of the inside arm to break contact and force Walker’s momentum downward - again. Neal doesn’t panic, and he’s collected absorbing contact.

Neal watched film and knew that the edge rusher bailing into coverage meant exotic pressure was coming from another angle. He turned his attention inside and located eventual first-round selection Devonte Wyatt. Neal showed good processing, understanding Georgia’s intentions and then easily locating Wyatt from the inside.

Neal is a tad late to recognize this twist, but his length allows him to get the job done. Neal engages Walker and rides him to the guard. He noticed the looper and exploded off his inside foot to make contact to disrupt the path of the defensive lineman. His overall length and size allow him the recovery ability to be a bit late, which isn’t consistent with his film.

Run blocker

Neal is a good overall run blocker, but he’s better in pass protection because of the balance issues that show up on tape when he’s engaged in contact and moving laterally. However, this wasn’t a persistent problem throughout his film. With his mountain-like size, one would imagine he can’t get low and win with leverage in short-yardage situations.

That’s not necessarily the case; on the right side of the screen, Neal explodes off the ball low and drives through the mid-line of the defensive lineman, showing excellent play strength and lower-leg drive to pave the way for a Brian Robinson (4) touchdown.

Neal blocks Zach Carter (6) very well to scoop him from the backside. Carter was a 4i-technique, and Carter made good contact with his outside hand. Despite that, Neal swivels his hips around Carter and creates the seal in the three-hole to give Robinson space to burst.

From the backside after a defensive shift, Neal is able to adjust and scoop block the 4i-technique. Neal is able to cross the defender’s face and overpower the defender while getting his inside hand on the chest. The alley defender makes a great play from depth, but Neal was able to adjust and block the defensive shift at a difficult angle well.

Neal is able to jump the defender and get to his outside shoulder after making initial contact on the inside shoulder. Neal swivels his hips around and then presses the defender away from the running back’s path. Good outcome, but we see how Neal’s chest is well over his toes at the point of contact and that he doesn’t always bring his feet through the contact when engaging. This is one reason for the issues we’ll go over later.

Like Andrew Thomas, Neal does very well as the play-side blocker in power/gap concepts. The ability to generate force through defenders aligned inside on down blocks is impressive, as we see above. Neal fits his hands inside and angles his hips well to engage his strength and drive through his target.

Finishing ability

Ikem Ekwonu is a superior finisher of blocks in the run game, but Neal isn’t a scrub in that area.

This is an RPO where we got to see Neal pull. Neal locates the linebacker who stepped into the hole, and the massive new Giant drives the defender into the deck.

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 on the ground again.

Concerns

Leaning into contact was an issue for Neal in college. Not a terrible one, but one that did occur more than I would have liked.

This is a third-and-1 play 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 consistently balanced with his movements in the run game in situations like this one.

Neal is the play-side kick-out block; he gets his chest way in front of his feet and hips and leans too much. He backs the smaller defender up, and the Bulldog concedes some space but just works around the block, and Neal falls off.

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

Neal steps inside to block the 5-technique on the backside. The defender fits his hands well and stands Neal up; Neal doesn’t recenter and comes to balance. He stays high, starts to lean, and allows the defender to shed the block.

It doesn’t happen too much in pass protection, but there are times when his pad level can be exposed if he starts to lean into contact, like we see above. He typically plays within his frame well in pass protection, but he almost loses to an inside hump-move here against Florida.

Final thoughts

Neal is a mountain of a man with two redwood trees attached to his torso. He is explosive, with quick feet, excellent power, and strong hands to grip. He is fundamentally sound with his hand technique with a devastating punch to stun, and he’s a good overall run blocker with a lot of positional versatility.

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

His 6’7 height gives him a natural high center of gravity which leaves him susceptible to counter rushes and craftier pass rushers. He’s not perfect, but he has a very high floor. Neal will be a good football player in the NFL for the Giants.