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How much worse was Giants’ Evan Neal than other top-10 tackles?

Neal was considered one of the top two tackles in the class but did not perform that way

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles
Evan Neal
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

When New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen was asked why he selected Evan Neal with the seventh overall pick in the 2022 draft, he responded, “Because Ickey [Ekwonu] was gone at six.” That sent many media members into a frenzy, thinking that Neal was a consolation prize and that Schoen had Ekwonu higher on his board.

What the GM had said right before that, though, was that he had the two tackles ranked side-by-side. Because Ekwonu was off the board, the decision to select Neal was a no-brainer.

Ekwonu and Neal were joined in the top 10 of the draft by Charles Cross of the Seahawks, who went ninth overall. The trio will likely be linked for years to come. Their rookie seasons, though, were a mixed bag—with Neal quite clearly coming out at the bottom.

The question is, though, how much worse was Neal than his draftmates? Were Ekwonu and Cross instant studs, or do they also have room to improve? How can Neal close the gap in Year 2?

Pass blocking

Offensive line performance is notoriously difficult to quantify statistically. The best available pass-blocking numbers are Pro Football Focus grades and pressure rates and Sports Info Solutions’ Total Points and blown block rate.

Here were the comparative numbers and ranks among 70 qualified tackles (min. 250 pass-blocking snaps).

Ikem Ekwonu vs. Evan Neal vs. Charles Cross Pass Blocking, 2022

Player Pressure Rate Sack + Hit Rate True Pass Set Pressure Rate True Pass Set Sack Plus Hit Rate Pass Blocking Blown Block Rate Pass Blocking Points PFF Pass Blocking Grade
Player Pressure Rate Sack + Hit Rate True Pass Set Pressure Rate True Pass Set Sack Plus Hit Rate Pass Blocking Blown Block Rate Pass Blocking Points PFF Pass Blocking Grade
Ikem Ekwonu 4.89% (30th) 1.27% (22nd) 9.61% (50th) 1.75% (18th) 4.6% (54th) 10 (T-47th) 67.5 (45th)
Evan Neal 8.61% (67th) 3.75% (69th) 16% (69th) 5.92% (69th) 5.0% (61st) 9 (T-54th) 47.5 (65th)
Charles Cross 6.93% (59th) 1.59% (29th) 10.8% (55th) 2.16% (25th) 4.8% (60th) 15 (T-30th) 63.9 (54th)

It is evident that Neal was quite a bit behind the other two tackles as a pass-blocker. While Cross and Ekwonu had their strengths and weaknesses, Neal was negative across the board.

All three players struggled with pressure in true pass sets, which are situations in which the blocker is going up directly against a pass rusher with no screen, play-action, or quick release to skew the numbers. In other words, when the quarterback had a straight drop back pass, all of them faced more pressure than average from the side of their first-round tackles. Still, Neal was by far the worst, ranking second-to-last among tackles with an eye-popping 16% pressure rate in true pass sets.

There really was no saving grace for Neal as a pass blocker. He was among the bottom-five tackles in most statistical areas. Ekwonu kept his pressure rate low enough to be slightly above average, and Cross gave up a lot of pressure but managed to still keep his quarterback from being hit too often. Neal did none of that: Daniel Jones was pressured often and hit on a regular basis.

Run blocking

Run-blocking may be even harder to measure due to the many moving parts along the blocking scheme on a run play. For this, PFF grades and SIS blown block rate and points added are pretty much the only numbers out there.

Here’s the head-to-head comparison in the run game.

Ikem Ekwonu vs. Evan Neal vs. Charles Cross Run-Blocking, 2022

Player PFF Run Block Grade Blown Run Block Rate Run Points Added
Player PFF Run Block Grade Blown Run Block Rate Run Points Added
Ikem Ekwonu 64.0 (37th) 1.8% (T-34th) 14 (T-15th)
Evan Neal 48.2 (T-64th) 1.1% (T-16th) 10 (T-35th)
Charles Cross 62.8 (39th) 1.1% (T-16th) 14 (T-15th)

Per PFF, Ekwonu and Cross were close to league-average run-blockers, while Neal was still among the league’s worst.


The penalties called against an offensive lineman cannot be discounted in their total evaluation. False starts and holding penalties can be drive-killers and wipe out huge plays.

Here were the players’ snaps per penalty:

  • Ekwonu - 78.3 (66th)
  • Neal - 105 (56th)
  • Cross - 155 (29th)

Ekwonu was called for a whopping seven holding penalties on the season, tied for the second-most among tackles. He compounded that with four false starts for 11 total penalties. The one area in which Neal was actually okay was holding penalties, as he did not have any, but he offset that with six false starts. Cross was called for three holding penalties, two false starts, and two other penalties for a total of nine. Although Neal had the fewest total penalties, his lower snap count still made Cross more efficient penalty-wise.

Can Neal recover?

Statistically, Neal is not the first top-10 tackle in history to struggle mightily. Obviously, Giants fans will turn to Andrew Thomas as a classic example, but Thomas improved far more in the second half of his rookie season than Neal did. Furthermore, expecting Neal to be a second-team All-Pro by his third year is a bit much.

From 2010 (the farthest back that PFF has all offensive line grades listed) until 2017, there were 12 tackles taken in the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft. Here were their rookie PFF grades and then the average of their grades over their next five seasons (minimum 425 snaps).

  • Ronnie Stanley: 74.8 / 78.0 (+4.1%)
  • Jack Conklin: 80.6 / 73.5 (-8.8%)
  • Ereck Flowers: 54.9 / 66.4 (+17.3%)
  • Greg Robinson: 61.3 / 61.8 (+0.8%)
  • Jake Matthews: 59.7 / 78.3 (+31.2%)
  • Eric Fisher: 57.8 / 71.8 (+24.2%)
  • Luke Joeckel: 58.0 / 65.3 (+12.6%)
  • Lane Johnson: 73.5 / 79.6 (+8.3%)
  • Matt Kalil: 77.4 / 67.2 (-13.1%)
  • Tyron Smith: 80.2 / 85.1 (+6.1%)
  • Trent Williams: 63.4 / 83.0 (+30.9%)
  • Russell Okung: 69.2 / 74.6 (+7.8%)

The average rookie season grade was 67.6, which would have ranked 41st out of 70 tackles in 2022. Over the next five years, the average grade climbed to 73.7, which would have ranked 24th. The median rookie grade was 65.3 (45th) and the median over the next five seasons was 74.1 (23rd). In other words, on average, these tackles improved from below-average tackles to above-average ones.

While that bodes well for Neal, the downside is that none of these tackles were even close to as bad as he was when they were rookies. His 44.1 grade was 10.8 points lower than the lowest rookie grade from 2010-17, which, incidentally, belonged to another Giants first-rounder in Flowers.

The average improvement from a player’s rookie season over his next five years was 10.1% over his initial grade. If Neal improves by that amount, his average grade over the next five years would be just 48.6, which almost certainly means he will not likely be a starter in the league. Therefore, he needs to match or exceed the biggest leaps on this list, those of Jake Matthews (+31.2%) and Trent Williams (+30.9%). Even that superlative level of improvement would give him a grade between 57.7 and 57.9, which still would have ranked in the bottom 10 among tackles in 2022.

That being said, seeing Williams on this list provides a ray of hope. That does not mean Neal will be Williams or anywhere close to him, but the best tackle in the NFL today was not nearly at that level as a rookie. Thomas is not the only elite tackle who made a significant Year 2 leap after underwhelming as a rookie.

The odds are stacked against Neal at this point. The fact that the Giants are so heavily relying on a big second-year improvement from him is concerning. Still, let’s not give up on the 2022 seventh-overall pick just yet.