One of the Giants‘ top priorities was improving the offensive line.
Enter Evan Neal.
General manager Joe Schoen took the Alabama tackle at No. 7 in the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday. The Giants needed a right tackle to complement blindside blocker Andrew Thomas. And now they are hitched.
First take: The Giants’ rebuild of the offensive line has been going on for about a decade. They needed to keep quarterback Daniel Jones upright for his make-or-break season. With Neal and Thomas as bookends and a slew of veteran options for the three interior spots, the Giants may have finally accomplished a task that has exhausted the fanbase. And they might have acquired the most NFL-ready tackle of the draft (Ikem Ekwonu went No. 6 to the Panthers while Charles Cross went No. 9 to the Seahawks).
Second guesses: There were always other ways Schoen could’ve handled this. All three tackles were available at No. 5 and he had the opportunity to take any of Neal, Ekwonu, and Cross. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (who they drafted with the fifth pick) might’ve then been there at No. 7. Schoen also could’ve traded back from the seventh pick, but it’s unclear if he attempted that move behind closed doors. If he did, picking up an extra first-round pick for next year and still targeting an offensive tackle (possibly Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning) may have been in the cards. Regardless, Neal is a surefire offensive line prospect and that’s exactly what the Giants needed. No more grueling developmental processes for this unit. Time to show up and show out.
How does Neal fit into 2022 plans? Thomas is expected to remain the left tackle with Neal taking over on the right side. Neal will have to beat out Matt Peart in theory, but that will not be a real competition (if the Giants even bother to pretend there is one). You don’t burn a top-7 pick on a lineman who isn’t going to start from Day 1. It’s also worth noting Neal spent time at either tackle spot in college. This provides the Giants with flexibility.
Final thoughts: Neal’s versatility as both a dominant pass- and run-blocking linemen will be key for Brian Daboll’s offense. The Giants will look to utilize Jones’ arm strength while also leaning on Saquon Barkley. If Neal pans out, the Giants may have figured out this area of the roster after years of failure. This is also huge for Jones. After declining the quarterback’s fifth-year option it’s clear the Giants are giving the 2019 first-round pick a final shot. They must put him in the best position possible to finally decide whether he’s the guy. The drafting of Neal and bolstering of the offensive line should assist with that grueling assignment.