‘He Has It’: Former All-Pro Training Giants’ Evan Neal

Evan Neal holds up the Giants jersey he received at the 2022 NFL draft

Getty Images Can Evan Neal make the leap to stardom? One former All Pro thinks so.

Don’t call Evan Neal a draft bust just yet. 

In fact, don’t be surprised when the New York Giants’ second-year tackle becomes a star.

So says four-time All-Pro lineman Willie Anderson, who posted on Instagram a clip from a training session with Neal on March 25 and believes “it’s only a matter of time … before he’s dominant.”

“Anyone who’s been around Evan Neal knows he has it,” Anderson wrote in a caption. “He’s going to get cold out there.”

Neal, the 2022 NFL draft’s seventh overall pick, couldn’t ask for a better mentor than this one. 

Anderson is one of two right tackles in league history to earn four straight trips to the Pro Bowl. The 2022 Bengals Ring of Honor inductee legend gave up 11 pressures in 2006, fourth-lowest in any season Pro Football Focus has tracked from 2006 to 2019. 

If Anderson thinks Neal can turn it around, Neal can probably turn it around. But it’ll take more sessions of work and technique tweaking than the one Anderson posted to Instagram.

Here’s what you need to know about Neal and Anderson’s training session — and what it means for the Giants next season:

Willie Anderson Compares Evan Neal To Bengals, Rams Legend

Anderson has seen talent like Neal’s before. 

At his Willie Anderson Lineman Academy, he coaches up top high school recruits, 2023 college prospects like Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones, and Pro Bowlers like Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith.

But it’s Anderson’s former Bengals teammate — potential Hall of Fame tackle Andrew Whitworth — that he said compares closest to Big Blue’s second-year tackle. 

“Long, big guys like (Neal) and Andrew Whitworth are not human,” Anderson posted. “(And they) have a significant advantage because of their feet.”

Whitworth was as big a blocker in his day as Neal is now. Both Neal (Alabama, 2021) and Whitworth (LSU, 2004-05) were first-team All-SEC tackles. Both have wiry arms over 34 inches and 10-inch wide hands. In the pros, both played at 6-foot-7 and over 330 pounds.

Whitworth had pointers for Neal’s footwork dating back to training camp, though. And Anderson is “playing” with Neal’s stance in order to convert some of his potential to Whitworth-like production. 

Anderson said Neal will “eventually get into a stance he feels comfortable with.” Until then, he said he has offensive line coach Bobby Johnson’s blessing to mold Neal’s technique and impart his wisdom.

“Shout-out to his O-line coach, Bobby Johnson, of the Giants for encouraging him to (work with) his people in the offseason,” Anderson wrote. “Can’t thank him enough for wanting his guys to get better and not having the ego usually associated with O-line coaches about ‘their guys.’ Salute, Bobby.”

Giants Offense Needs Evan Neal to Improve in 2023

Simply put: The Giants need Neal to improve if it wants to compete next season.

Neal is “dangerously close” to bust status, according to Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine. And PFF ranked Neal 80th out of 81 gradable tackles in pass protection last year. 

According to more PFF data that NFL analyst Ben Baldwin cross-referenced with starting lineups, no team had as dire a blocking situation as the Giants did in 2022 — with its weakest link at Neal’s right tackle spot.

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New York has been at this crossroads with its tackles before. It didn’t pan out with 2015’s ninth overall pick Ereck Flowers, who was waived in 2018 after major pass protection struggles at both left and right tackle.

In Andrew Thomas, though, the Giants see a case study for patience with Neal.

Per PFF, Thomas gave up 10 sacks in his rookie year, earning a rough 62.4 PFF grade. Two seasons later, the 2020 first-round pick posted an 89.1 overall PFF grade, allowed only three sacks, and was named a Per PFF

“It’s definitely not easy, especially coming from college where you dominate,” Thomas told the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy in September 2022. “But I think (Neal) has a good attitude about it. He’s always asking me about different pointers and asking different questions in meetings trying to get better.”

At this point, the Giants clearly view Neal as more Thomas and less Flowers. They’re counting on Neal to resume the upward trajectory the New York Post’s Paul Schwartz said he showed before a knee sprain derailed him for four games.

As of March 27, general manager Joe Schoen hasn’t added any offensive linemen to the Giants’ mix that could fill in for Neal in another absence. That could change in the draft, but the team is more interested in adding interior line help like Minnesota center prospect John Michael Schmitz than it is challenging for Neal’s starting spot, according to Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline.

Add it all up and you get a season as critical for a Giants lineman as any in recent memory. Judging by his end-of-season press availability, Neal sounds ready to prove his doubters and detractors wrong in 2023.

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