This series will feature the top NFL Draft prospects with insight from the beat reporters that covered them in college. This article is just a preview of the full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant podcast.
Name: Evan Neal
Position: Offensive Lineman
School: Alabama (Junior)
Height/Weight: 6-7, 350
Hometown: Okeechobee, Fla.
(Below is a portion of Deepi Sidhu's interview with Alabama beat reporter Charlie Potter, who covers the the team for Bama Online and 247 Sports.)
Sidhu: We've got a lot of mock drafts that are already out. A lot of them to have the Texans selecting Evan Neal, if he is still on the board, at No. 3 overall. It seems like he could go even No. 1 or No. 2. The Texans have had a lot of moving pieces on the O-line and Neal has moved around, it seems like quite a bit himself. He's made starts at left guard, left tackle, right tackle in his three seasons. Where do you think his best fit will be as Neal enters the NFL?
Potter: He has 30 games of experience, he only missed one and that was due to, I think, illness a couple of years ago. So he's been a guy that's been a fixture on Alabama's offensive line, but it's been at different spots. He has double-digit starts at three different positions. He started his career at left guard, started 13 games there in 2019. Then he moved to right tackle in 2020 the year Alabama won the National Championship and also won the Joe Moore Award as the nation's top offensive lineman. Last year, he kicked over to the left tackle with Alex Leatherwood turning pro and really he seemed like that was the place that he liked the most. Of course, that's where he played a lot at IMG Academy before coming to Tuscaloosa, so I think that's probably where he wants to play.
I think at this point, though, anywhere on an offensive line as a starter, it would be advantageous for him and something he would look forward to. That flexibility certainly helps because a team in need of any kind of offensive line help can look for Evan Neal to plug a spot. Not at center, obviously, but he can maybe start his career at guard. I see him just with his frame being 6-7, Alabama listed him at 350, I think he lost a little bit of weight. He can certainly play tackle at the next level, but that versatility is a strength of his and something that I think teams will covet because you only want to carry so many offensive linemen. And the fact that he can play multiple roles and wear multiple hats is something that will certainly help him at the next level.
Sidhu: It's not that often that offensive linemen garner a lot of honors. Neal received Offensive Player of the Week honors multiple times from the Alabama coaching staff. Entering the NFL, what do you think is his biggest asset? What does he bring as an offensive lineman?
Potter: Yeah, I mean, you're right. Alabama's coaching staff didn't hand out a lot of Player of the Week awards to offensive linemen this year. It was kind of a down year, given that they won the Joe Moore Award last year as a unit, but Evan Neal was that constant force upfront for UA and I think it was six or seven, maybe even eight times that he got that award from the coaching staff. He is a well-rounded offensive lineman. Alabama, a lot of times they didn't want to tip their hand and say, 'Hey, we're going to run it to the left every time,' but it was a good bet that Brian Robinson and these running backs that Alabama had were going to run off of Evan Neal's left or right hip. He's strong in that aspect, but he's also sound as a pass blocker. The offensive line as a whole didn't necessarily pass protect very well for Bryce Young. Even though he won the Heisman Trophy, he was running around a lot, but think Evan Neal was just the consistent factor over there.
So I think he's an all-around, really strong offensive lineman, both from a physical and literal standpoint. It's tough to kind of grade this past year just because the group is a whole kind of took a step back. I don't think that's necessarily a knock on Evan, because when you look at it, the cream rises to the top and he was the guy that stood out most among the starting five.
Sidhu: I often like to ask different reporters about players and adversity and things that they've overcome, but it just seems like for Neal having to play three different spots in three different seasons is quite a challenge in itself. How did he manage that and really thrive no matter where he was playing on the line?
Potter: Yeah, it felt more like a promotion for him because he just took advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself. Coming in as a true freshman, guys don't really start a lot as freshmen at Alabama. I mean, it's notable when it happens, guys like Andre Smith has done it, Cam Robinson with the Jaguars, Jonah Williams, left tackle for the Bengals and played in the Super Bowl this year, but the list isn't very long, and so for him to come in and nab a spot at left guard and 2019 on an offensive line with a lot of big names, it says a lot. Then the following year, you had Jedrick Wills moving on to the NFL. That right tackle spot becomes available and he slides right in.
As a beat reporter, you do depth chart projections and things like that going into the spring and the summer preseason camp. It was very easy to pencil in Evan Neal at right tackle then. The same goes for this past season when Alex Leatherwood moved on to the league. You had an opening at left tackle. You wanted to protect Bryce Young's blind spot going into his first year as a starter, and you moved that big body of Evan Neal's over there, and he does a really good job in that regard. So it's difficult to make that transition for any player just moving from a different spot year to year, but I think it was more so like I said, a promotion for him where he started, where there was an opening, and then each time there was an opening where he felt more comfortable, he was able to step in and really do a seamless job in that in that regard.
Sidhu: What is Evan Neal like off the field? Did you get a chance to know him? What's his personality like?
Potter: With the pandemic, it's been tough just to kind of get that beat writer-player relationship that you've had in past years. So we haven't gotten a chance to really know Evan as well as some players in the past, just because they don't talk as freshmen and then when he comes up as a starter, it's in front of a camera and we're not in the room, but everything I've gathered is he's just a guy that players like to be around. Again, he stepped into a leadership role this year and he's probably a little more quiet, but he has a deep voice and when he speaks, people listen. I think that's a reason why they voted him as a team captain this year. He's never had been a guy where you have to cover things off the field, and that's kind of part of the job as a reporter when things happen from a news standpoint, Evans has never been that kind of guy. He just seems like a player that goes about his business and he has good character and personality and things like that. Nothing just completely overwhelming or boisterous or anything like that, but he seems like a guy that would fit in well in a pro locker room. He's kind of ready for that. I think he's kind of been a guy that's been all business since he came to Alabama and that's a big part of coming from a place like IMG. So I think wherever he lands, he's going to be a guy that fits in well and is someone that doesn't take long to acclimate to the lifestyle of a pro athlete.
The 2022 NFL Draft takes place Thursday, April 28 through Saturday, April 30 in Las Vegas, Nevada.