Alabama's Evan Neal Declares for 2022 NFL Draft; Potential Top-5 Pick

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 13, 2022

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 18: Evan Neal #73 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on during the first quarter of a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
James Gilbert/Getty Images

Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal confirmed to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport on Thursday that he's declaring for the 2022 NFL draft.

Neal is the No. 4 overall player on the big board for Bleacher Report's NFL Scouting Department. He was projected to go first overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars in B/R's mock draft:

"The Jacksonville Jaguars once again sit atop year's draft. Fortunately, they chose Trevor Lawrence last year so they don't have to address the quarterback position in what appears to be a down year for the class. 
"Instead, the organization's approach now veers toward building around Lawrence to maximize his capabilities after a season of impeding his growth. Alabama's Evan Neal presents tremendous upside as a young left tackle prospect who's still growing and learning his position."

Bleacher Report's Scouting Department notes in its scouting report that he's "exceptionally explosive and smooth out of his stance at 350 pounds," with "the range, footwork and weight distribution to play on an island."

Fans have become accustomed to seeing the Crimson Tide send skilled defensive linemen to the next level. The program is building a similar assembly line on the offensive front.

Depending on where Neal lands, it could be the fourth straight year Alabama has an offensive lineman come off the board in the first round (Jonah Williams in 2019, Jedrick Wills Jr. in 2020 and Alex Leatherwood in 2021). Landon Dickerson was also a second-rounder in 2021.

Because of the quality of competition Neal faced in Tuscaloosa, he had to move around the line in his three years with the team. He played primarily at left guard as a freshman in 2019 before shifting to right tackle as a sophomore in 2020. This season, he replaced Leatherwood at left tackle.

That versatility looks good on a resume for NFL scouts, but Neal's athleticism is what has left pro personnel enamored. 

Alabama lists the Florida native at 6'7" and 350 pounds. A man of his size shouldn't be able to do this:

Evan Neal @ENeal73

Always looking to one up myself! <a href="https://twitter.com/MattRheaPhD?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MattRheaPhD</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/UA_CoachBallou?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@UA_CoachBallou</a> <a href="https://t.co/mEkce64Eqy">pic.twitter.com/mEkce64Eqy</a>

"At his size, he is the most impressive lower body power athlete we have ever seen," Matt Rhea, Alabama's director of sports science, told Bruce Feldman of The Athletic. "His jumping power is in the top 1 percent we have ever measured. At 350 pounds, he routinely hits box jumps at 48 inches."

In June, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah looked at his game and came away impressed. However, Jeremiah noted Neal had some work to do as a pass-blocker: "His feet get stuck every so often, allowing defenders to beat him on the high side and corner to the quarterback."

For the most part, that wasn't an issue in 2021.

PFF College Football @PFF_College

Quit playin' with Evan Neal 💥<a href="https://twitter.com/AlabamaFTBL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AlabamaFTBL</a> <a href="https://t.co/xPIIxOkOn1">pic.twitter.com/xPIIxOkOn1</a>

Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line, so a team that drafts Neal in the first round might be looking for him to fit there long-term. Should he instead work better on the right side, he'd still provide plenty of value.

Another year at Alabama might have helped him add more polish, but nobody can blame him for making the jump given how high his stock is.