Picture New England Patriots mammoth offensive lineman Trent Brown as an ice skater. That’s what Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton urges us to do as he attempts to sum up top offensive lineman prospect Evan Neal.
The Alabama Crimson Tide stud will almost certainly be the first offensive lineman selected in the 2022 NFL draft, and his special blend of size and gracefulness is what has Wharton coming up with such a colorful comparison.
Trent Brown as an ‘Ice Skater?’
“There are only so many gigantic offensive tackles in the NFL,” Wharton wrote. “It’s hard enough to find quality blockers, but linemen over 6’6″ and 330 pounds are as rare as they come. That’s why NFL evaluators love the idea of adding Alabama tackle Evan Neal to their roster.”
NFL.com’s Charles Davis projects Neal will be selected with the third overall pick in the draft by the Houston Texans. Second-year pro Davis Mills should have a solid, book-end tackle to protect him for as long as he’s the Texans’ QB1. One of the things that also sticks out about Neal as a prospect is his versatility.
“Neal has experience at guard and both tackle positions, and unlike Orlando Brown Jr., he moves quite well for having such density,” Wharton wrote. “He’s much more athletically similar to former 49er and current Patriots right tackle Trent Brown, except he moves diagonally and horizontally as if he were a graceful ice skater.”
That’s one heck of a comparison when you consider Brown is one of the true giants in the NFL. According to Wharton and many others, Neal’s upside is superior to Brown, which suggests he could be a perennial All-Pro or more in the NFL. If the Texans do wind up with Neal, they will be doing for Mills what they didn’t do for David Carr more than a decade ago: Assure he would be protected by investing in a top-flight offensive tackle.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions are projected to be on the clock ahead of the Texans–barring a trade of picks. It wouldn’t be totally crazy to imagine the Jags or the Lions turning to Neal if they see him as a can’t-miss offensive lineman prospect.
The Jaguars already have their young franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. Aside from finding him some serious weapons in the passing game, Jacksonville might also seek to find the strongest offensive line to protect their future.
What Direction Will the Patriots Go in the 2022 NFL Draft?
The Patriots aren’t in the business of chasing starting quarterbacks this year, or for the foreseeable future. The team appears satisfied with Mac Jones as their starter after he put together a strong rookie season in 2021. Instead, the Patriots are more likely to focus their attention during the draft on a starting cornerback and/or a wide receiver.
While New England signed Malcolm Butler and traded for DeVante Parker, there is still a need for more talent and depth at both positions; perhaps most urgently at corner. With the departure of J.C. Jackson, the Patriots might be forced to turn to Butler as their No. 1 option for elite receivers.
Butler missed all of the 2021 season and briefly retired before hopping on the comeback trail to rejoin the team he helped win a Super Bowl. If the Patriots don’t find a way to bring in some insurance for Butler, Jalen Mills, and Jonathan Jones, it could be a long season.
The Patriots currently have the No. 21 pick in the draft. Time will tell whether Bill Belichick decides to keep the pick or to move back to add more selections. In any case, we’re getting closer to the crown jewel of the NFL offseason, and we’ll soon know where Neal will land and who the Patriots have brought in to help the 2022 roster.
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