It looks like the New York Giants will have to wait a bit for the return of second-year offensive lineman Evan Neal.
There was some hope that Neal could return to the field following the Giants’ Week 13 bye. However, he’s still working his way back from an ankle injury suffered back in Week 9. The Giants obviously want Neal back on the field as soon as possible, however it looks like he’s going to miss the Giants’ Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers. The Giants are home underdogs against the Packers, and even if Neal has been a disappointment, having additional healthy linemen available against a good Packers’ defensive front would be a positive.
There will be some question as to where Neal will play when he returns in 2023 and possibly even in 2024. Some fans have speculated that Neal might play better as a guard than as a tackle, while indications from the team seem to be that they view him as an offensive tackle.
So SB Nation Reacts put the question to the Big Blue View community for the Week 14 poll: Where should Evan Neal play when healthy? Right guard won, but by a very narrow margin.
This is our closest poll results to date, and frankly closer than I was expecting. I’m not particularly surprised that more respondents picked guard, but that so many think he should stay at tackle for the time being is eyebrow-raising.
Giants’ GM Joe Schoen believes in Neal at tackle, saying, “I went back and watched the Alabama stuff; the kid can play. We just got to get him to be more consistent.”
Schoen added that Neal needs to improve, but his injuries are disrupting his development. Neal missed time with a sprained MCL a year ago, attempted to play through an ankle injury earlier this year, and has now missed four weeks with a different injury on the same ankle.
It would be better for the Giants if Neal can develop as a tackle. Interior linemen generally don’t have the same athletic premium as tackles and therefore don’t need the same kind of investment. Guards can generally be drafted later or signed for less on the free agent market. That said, the Giants need Neal to be a consistent contributor somewhere on their offensive line.
Matt Peart not panning out hurt, in that if he had become a viable starter, the Giants wouldn’t have had to draft Neal in the first place. But where teams hope that third round picks can become regular starters, they expect first round picks to do so. If Neal can’t develop into a reliable starter, then the Giants will need to invest in the offensive line again and use resources that are needed elsewhere to help finish their rebuild. Not to mention the opportunity cost of not having selected another player in 2022 who could be helping the team.
The breakout of Kayvon Thibodeaux means that the 2022 first round can’t be a complete wash. But the Giants would have missed on first round picks in back-to-back years, and that starts to explain the disparity in talent between the Giants and other teams who have completed rebuilds in a year or two. If Neal can’t develop, the pick would look particularly egregious considering they could have had Kayvon as well as Micah Parsons or Rashawn Slater.
And on that note, it’s also somewhat interesting that fan confidence in the team dipped somewhat over the Giants’ bye week.
Fan confidence was at 71 percent following the Giants’ Week 12 win over the New England Patriots, but dipped to 65 percent this week. It’s somewhat interesting, considering the majority of fans wanted Tommy DeVito named the starter — and he was. The dip could be related to the Giants going from 6th to 7th overall in the 2024 draft order thanks to losses by New York Jets, and Washington Commanders. There’s also been discussion of friction behind the scenes amongst the Giants’ coaching staff. Some fans might be getting worried that there will be harmful turnover after the season or that the coaches could lose the locker room.
It will be interesting to see what happens over the next five games, and how the community reacts.