NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2021. This is the fourth in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
As a unanimous five-star recruit out of Florida football factory IMG Academy, Evan Neal arrived at Alabama in 2019 with great expectations -- and he immediately delivered, starting all 13 games at left guard as a true freshman. Jedrick Wills left to become a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Neal filled the void at right tackle with aplomb last season. Now, with the departure of Alex Leatherwood -- the No. 17 overall pick in the 2021 draft -- Neal is poised to man the blind side as a junior in the fall. His steady progression on the Alabama offensive line, which has produced six first-rounders over the past nine drafts, has scouts excited about the potential of this 20-year-old. And considering everything the defending national champions just lost on offense -- in addition to Leatherwood, QB Mac Jones, RB Najee Harris and WRs Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith all came off the board in Round 1 in April -- the Crimson Tide need dominant play from Neal, one of just two returning starters on the offensive line. I'm excited to see if he can answer the bell.
Having recently watched three of Neal's game tapes against top-notch competition, there's a lot to like about the highly pedigreed mountain of a man. Here's my initial scouting report:
Height, weight: 6-foot-7, 360 pounds (school measurements).
2020 statistics: Started all 13 games at right tackle for the national champion Crimson Tide. Alabama's offense ranked second in the FBS in scoring (48.5 ppg) and fourth in yards per game (541.6), allowing just 19 sacks while leading the nation with 37 rushing touchdowns.
Game tape watched: at LSU (Dec. 5, 2020), vs. Florida (SEC Championship Game on Dec. 19, 2020), vs. Ohio State (College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 11, 2021).
What I liked: Neal is a massive right tackle, yet he has surprisingly nimble feet and quickness. He varies his pass sets, occasionally jumping/attacking edge rushers and eliminating their runway. When Neal takes a traditional set, he can bend and redirect before landing his punch. Once he locks on, the play is usually over. In the run game, he can collapse defenders on down-blocks, and he moves well as a puller. Neal is a good finisher.
Where he needs to improve: Neal had some issues dealing with speed in the Florida game. His feet get stuck every so often, allowing defenders to beat him on the high side and corner to the quarterback. He can get a little over-aggressive in both the run and pass games, leading to him losing balance and hitting the ground. He also struggles to adjust in space against athletic second-level defenders. That's to be expected, though, given his gargantuan size.
Biggest takeaway: Neal has some blemishes, but it's hard to find players who possess his combination of size, length and quickness. He plays with a nasty temperament and solid overall awareness. I believe there's a happy medium where he can maintain his violent play style while demonstrating a little more body control to avoid falling off blocks. He has the skill set of a 10-year starting right tackle.
He reminds me of: Marcus McNeill. I couldn't find a more current comp for Neal. I see some similarities to Orlando Brown, but Neal is a little quicker, while Brown plays with better balance and patience. McNeill was an enormous tackle coming out of Auburn. He wasn't an ideal bender, but he had foot quickness and understood how to use his long arms to keep defenders off his chest. He had a very solid six-year run as a left tackle in San Diego, making a pair of Pro Bowls for the Chargers. I see Neal more as a right tackle, but some teams might give him a shot on the left side.
I can't wait to watch him play: at Florida on Sept. 18. Of the three tapes I studied, the Florida game was clearly Neal's worst performance. The Gators have a lot of speed and athleticism coming off the edge. He didn't handle it very well last year. I'm excited to see him get another crack at that group this fall.