What Nick Saban has accomplished at Alabama has been remarkable to the point where the expectations and the bar are set at championship or bust year in and year out. Not only have the results remained consistent, but there isn’t a program that’s placed more players in the NFL over the past five seasons.
Since the legendary head coach took over the program in 2007, 106 athletes have been selected in the NFL draft. Three out of the 10 players selected during the last draft cycle were offensive linemen. Alex Leatherwood, Landon Dickerson, and Deonte Brown were the upperclassmen that made up a historic offensive front that went on to win the Joe Moore Award as the best unit in the country. At the time only a sophomore, the youngest of the group was Evan Neal. At 6-foot-6 and 360 pounds, Neal easily stood out amongst the pack with his size and his game.
Having Alabama in my scouting region, I get the opportunity to see many of the Crimson Tide’s prized recruits grow over time. Even though Neal wasn’t draft-eligible during the 2021 cycle, it was difficult to keep my eyes off of him. Originally playing right guard during his first season in Tuscaloosa, he transitioned to playing right tackle, starting in all 13 games last season.
Neal was a key cog that paved the way and made many of the record-setting performances that we saw last season possible. There are a lot of intriguing traits in place, but also some things that scouts still want to see heading into his true junior season.
The Good: At just a shade over 6-foot-6 (6062) and 360 pounds, Neal has unique size for a player at the position. Usually when an offensive tackle prospect enters the 340-plus pound range, questions begin to come up about his frame and if the weight is actually good weight. Not possessing much sloppy or bad weight on his frame at all, Neal has a well-proportioned frame that he uses as an asset that’s the center part of his entire approach.
A mammoth-sized offensive tackle prospect, the circumference and range of his frame is one of his best traits. As a run blocker, he utilizes and maximizes his frame by surrounding and driving defenders to generate movements. Momentum and forward lean into blocks quickly overwhelms players at the first and second levels of the defense.
An impressive factor about Neal is how he uses his feet to surround targets and in unison fires his hands into their body structure to pave running lanes. When able to gather a full head of steam and square up targets, he’s experienced a lot of success. A highly comfortable run blocker, he shows lots of enthusiasm when attacking in the short areas. Also allowed to pull on tackle iso or dart schemes, Neal is able to display his athleticism. Allowed to pull and come around to attack play side linebackers, he has lots of high-level blocks that include second-level defenders being hesitant with taking on the stampede of him coming directly at them.
As a pass protector, Neal shows plenty of promise in that he covers a lot of area in his pass sets. Despite his size, he’s a fluid mover and efficient with the ground that he gains in his sets. Transitioning that to power, when he’s able to strike his hands and land in desired areas, rushers experience difficulties being able to bend and win the corner against him. With lots of strength and pop in his hands, he has an elongated wind-up when initiating contact, but when his hands land, he has a lasting effect on matchups.
The Improvable: A lot of Neal’s flaws and faults come as a result of overaggressiveness and being too eager prior to the initiation of blocks at the point of attack. Even though he contains a long wind-up and lots of strength behind his hands, his load up can be seen coming from a mile away from the opposition. With a big circular motion with both arms, it’s a clear signal motion to defenders that he’s about to thrust forward with his upper body in hopes of creating lanes.
The big wind-up and aggressiveness got him in trouble frequently against Texas A&M. An exciting back and forth battle between him and DeMarvin Leal, another highly touted SEC prospect, Leal was able to bring some of Neal’s flaws to the forefront. Exposing his chest during the loading period of his wind-ups also allowed Leal to create quick wins with a push-pull move that sent Neal falling forward, losing control at the point of attack.
There are stretches where Neal sacrifices his balance because of too much body lean and the overeagerness with wanting to overwhelm certain players at the point of attack. A borderline average lateral mover, Neal’s best movement blocks have come when he’s asked to open, rip, and run as a puller compared to when he’s asked to zone block and work up to the second level.
His accuracy with landing and executing those types of blocks has been hit or miss and he shows some rawness when asked to block in zone-based schemes. Because of his body structure and momentum with moving downhill, he faces challenges with breaking down and squaring up moving targets that are scraping over the top.
Best in a man/gap/power scheme where he can lean his body on others and strictly attack downhill, Neal has a lot of intriguing traits that could make him a first-round draft pick next spring. After playing right guard in 2019 and right tackle in 2020, he’s transitioning to left tackle next season. Putting him on the same succession plan as Jonah Williams and Alex Leatherwood, Neal has the opportunity to be the next in line of what continues to be an impressive lineage of first-round draft picks at Alabama.