After his terrible performance on Monday night, there are those who have already determined that, three games into his NFL career, New York Giants right tackle Evan Neal is a bust. That he’s Ereck Flowers 2.0. That he needs to be moved to guard, or to the bench. That GM Joe Schoen wasted the No. 7 overall pick on yet another blocker who can’t block.
Well, slow your roll.
Look across the line of scrimmage from Neal all the way to the other offensive tackle. Over there you will find the player currently graded by Pro Football Focus as the best offensive tackle in football. That’s Andrew Thomas. In his third season, Thomas is well on his way to establishing himself as an elite left tackle. If, that is, he hasn’t done so already.
Then, think about the 2020 season. Remember those bad old days when Thomas, the fourth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, gave up 57 pressures? Only Jawaan Taylor of the Jacksonville Jaguars gave up more, surrendering 58.
Remember that Thomas gave up three sacks and 19 pressures in his first four games? That he gave up a sack and NINE total pressures in Week 5 against the Dallas Cowboys? That he gave up two sacks and seven pressures Week 14 against the Arizona Cardinals? That Thomas gave up 10 total sacks that season and finished with an awful pass-blocking efficiency score of 94.2?
Remember the fantastic work BBV’s Tony DelGenio did last month regarding rookie performance? Here is the part that applies to Neal and offensive tackles:
“On average, 10 rookie offensive tackles have gotten significant playing time in the past five years, but only about a quarter of them have been successful as rookies. Only four of the twelve who saw the field a lot in 2021 had above-average PFF grades, and only one of those four had an above-average pass blocking grade.
“Of the 12 rookie OTs who played a lot as rookies and succeeded overall, eight were selected in the first round, three in the second round, and one in the sixth round (Michael Onwenu). So there’s every reason to use high draft picks on offensive tackles. The Giants of course did that with Evan Neal this year, but the lesson is not to expect the world from him right away.”
Yes, Neal is No. 60 out of 61 qualifying offensive tackles graded by PFF. The guy who is 59th? That would be Ikem Ekwonu of the Carolina Panthers, selected one spot ahead of Neal at No. 6. He is playing left tackle in Carolina, and has surrendered three sacks and nine pressures to Neal’s four and 10.
It is baptism by fire for rookie NFL tackles. It’s not easy, and it’s not always without massive, quarterback-crunching, potholes.
Thomas said this week that he has shared his rookie experience with Neal, who was so downcast on Monday night that he would not look up from the floor while being questioned by the media.
“Just encouraging him to keep working and to have a short-term memory, but just a reminder that the stuff that you put on film, the rushers next week, they’re watching that,” Thomas said. “Just a reminder to clean that up and keep working the technique. He’s a talented kid, has all the tools in the world. He’s mature, so I’m confident in him.”
Thomas understands what Neal is experiencing.
“It’s definitely not easy, especially coming from college where you dominate – you’re really good,” Thomas said. “It’s frustrating but I think he has a good attitude about it. He’s always asking me about different pointers and asking questions in the meeting room, just trying to get better every day. I think he has the right mindset.”
Yours truly asked Thomas via Zoom the other day about how things have changed for him since that terrible rookie season. Here is the question, and how Thomas answered it:
When you watch Neal play, it is important to remember where Thomas was in 2020 vs. where he is now. Let’s see where the narrative about Neal is a season or two from now. That is when we are really going to know whether Neal can or will be the bookend the Giants drafted him to be.