The 2021 NFL Draft isn’t too far gone, but the scouting never seems to stop. Early mock drafts have begun to appear and one name that keeps cropping up in conjunction with the Cincinnati Bengals is Evan Neal, a six-foot-seven, 360-pound monster.
It’s no surprise that the Bengals continue to be linked with offensive linemen. That’s despite them taking Clemson’s Jackson Carman in the second round of the annual selection meeting. Cincy’s staff has been bullish about Carman post-draft but it’s clear that they have him penciled in as the long-term answer at one of the guard spots.
Make no mistake. The Cincinnati Bengals are comfortable with their current options at tackle. While the signing of Riley Reiff was a mere blip on the national media’s radar, Zac Taylor and company clearly feel the experienced tackle will be a much-needed upgrade on the right-hand side. The concern with Reiff is that he is only on a one-year deal, meaning the Bengals likely have to address the position again next offseason.
The Bengals must keep tabs on the next man up in Tuscaloosa
The Alabama Crimson Tide are well known for producing NFL-ready draft prospects. Particularly along the offensive line. Recent years have seen an array of talent come off the board early. Just think about Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson this year as well as Jedrick Wills and the Bengals’ own left tackle Jonah Williams in years prior.
The next product off the conveyor belt is likely the mammoth Evan Neal. Despite his hefty frame, he carries his weight well. While NFL teams have become more open to smaller, mobile tackles, there remains excitement around prospects with Neal’s sheer size and arm length.
A five-star recruit out of the lauded IMG Academy, Neal earned the distinction of being a freshman starter for the Tide. That is no mean feat with the amount of talent that Bama reels in on a yearly basis. He held down the left guard spot in 2019 and made ESPN’s Freshman All-American team.
Here’s something else for Bengals fans to consider.
With the departure of Wills, Neal finally got his opportunity to start at tackle in 2020. He posted an 83.7 PFF grade for the season, which culminated in Alabama being crowned National Champions. That grade was the fourth highest in the Power 5, quite a feat for a sophomore playing the right tackle spot for the first time at college level.
On tape, Neal’s movement ability is excellent for a man with his measurables. Despite his towering frame, he remains relatively light footed in pass sets. He keeps his feet moving and can drop deep enough, quickly enough to neutralize speed rushers.
In the running game, he fires out of his stance quickly. That explosion only serves to demonstrate the amazing athlete that Neal is for his size.
Neal will be looking to shine for the Bengals and every other NFL team.
While there is plenty to get excited about with this young man, it is important to temper expectations. Neal is set to move to his third position in three years. He should become the starting left tackle, but just as it was in 2020, there could be a period of adjustment as he gets used to his new spot.
Neal still looked more comfortable dealing with rushers attacking his interior shoulder and needs to refine his technique against pure edge rushers. Seemingly, the biggest issue he needs to work on is his balance.
Too often on film, he lunges while seeking contact which leads to him spending plenty of time on the ground. He needs to become more violent with his hands and aware of counter moves. At times, you see him too easily beaten with a spin move or push/pull move. Finding the right mix of quick feet versus anchor is imperative for his development.
Bengals top brass sure to be keeping tabs on Tuscaloosa
Duke Tobin and his personnel team will be acutely aware of the criticism from some factions for passing on Penei Sewell. While the Bengals feel they have added an elite playmaker and fortified the O-line with a starting guard and experienced tackle, there remains a question mark long term should Reiff only get one year in Cincy.
It is safe to say that offensive tackle will be top of the shopping list next year and a prospect like Neal will of course garner plenty of attention. Should he iron out some of the issues that often plague young offensive tackles, Neal has an ideal blend of size and athleticism that would be an excellent fit in Cincy. Giving the Bengals bookend Alabama tackles to protect Joe Burrow for the majority of his career.