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How can Giants’ RT Evan Neal progress in Year 2?

Neal must improve from disappointing rookie season

NFL: New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

No player on the New York Giants is under more pressure right now than Evan Neal.

Neal, drafted last year to end the team’s streak of underwhelming right tackles, did little as a rookie to inspire confidence that he will develop into the Pro Bowl player the Giants need him to be. He allowed 52 pressures in 534 pass-blocking snaps and showed little improvement over the course of the season.

New York already has their future at left tackle in Andrew Thomas. This season will give them a better idea of whether they have also found their long-term starter at right tackle.

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot-7
Weight: 350
Age: 22
Position: Offensive tackle
Experience: 2
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, $24.55 million rookie deal | 2023 cap hit: $5.58 million

Career to date

Neal started out as a left guard at Alabama, moved to right tackle as a sophomore, and finished his career as a left tackle, making 40 total starts. In 2021, he was named a Second Team All-American by the AP after allowing two sacks in 15 games. He was also a team captain and a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy.

The Giants selected Neal at No. 7 overall in 2022, making him one of three tackles drafted in the top 10 along with Charles Cross and Ikem Ekwonu. Most scouts agreed that Neal had the highest floor of those three prospects. Early in the draft cycle, he was in conversation as the potential No. 1 overall pick — as was Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Giants’ other first-rounder.

However, Neal’s struggles as a rookie mean he’s already entering something of a “prove-it” year as the Giants’ right tackle. Pro Football Focus gave him a 28.1 pass-blocking grade on true passing downs, lowest among all qualified tackles. His overall grade of 44.0 was the second-worst. Sports Info Solutions lists him as allowing 11 sacks (though three of them came in one game against the Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence). Only Cross and Braxton Jones allowed more, even though Neal missed four games with a sprained knee.

Neal spent this offseason working with former All-Pro offensive lineman Willie Anderson to perfect his stance, who said he sees a “dominant” career coming for Neal.

2023 outlook

The common refrain this offseason has been that because Thomas struggled as a rookie before becoming one of the NFL’s best linemen, Neal will be just fine. The other narrative is that he’s already close to becoming a bust.

In reality, incremental progress is what’s most likely and should be expected from Neal this year. The physical traits are there. Neal has good agility and is the fifth-largest offensive lineman in the league. Now he just needs to prove he can translate that into on-field success. We’ve only had a small sample size so far: Neal played 13 games last year and looked worse off after returning from a knee injury in Week 12, though he refused to use that as an excuse.

It’s difficult to see Neal getting benched even if he’s still struggling late in the season, so he should get a full sophomore campaign to sort things out. His replacement, should one be necessary, likely isn’t on the roster, with Tyre Phillips as Neal’s expected backup.

When general manager Joe Schoen took over the Giants, one of the biggest challenges he faced was solving the franchise’s nearly decade-long crisis on the offensive line. Neal was supposed the pillar of Schoen’s solution. If he’s not the future at right tackle, it’ll leave the team scrambling for an answer once again.