Is Evan Neal a dark horse to be the first pick in 2022 NFL Draft?

Evan Neal

Quality starting offensive tackles are hard to find. That’s why it’s a premium position on NFL Draft weekend, with players who grade out as potential starters at the position often getting picked in the first round. And when there’s a blue-chip prospect at offensive tackle, a top-ten pick is usually a lock.

That brings us to Alabama’s Evan Neal, who began the 2021 college football season as the top offensive tackle prospect in the country. He’s lost some ground as of late to North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu, with some draft analysts moving Ekwonu to the top of their 2022 NFL draft offensive tackle rankings. But according to ESPN’s Jordan Reid, Neal remains a player who not only could be the first offensive tackle drafted but also the first player picked overall.

Reid outlined the potential prospects the Jacksonville Jaguars could select at the top of the draft, with edge defenders Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) the obvious choices, but he suggested the investment the team made in Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL draft could push offensive tackle to the top of their priorities, making Neal a good get.

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“Hutchinson and Thibodeaux will be debated closely over the next three months, particularly at the NFL combine in March,” wrote Reid. “The pre-draft process will do a lot to determine which pass-rusher ends up above the other. But here’s an outside possibility to watch for, particularly if the Jags do get the No. 1 pick: Alabama left tackle Evan Neal, who would provide immediate protection at either tackle spot for Lawrence.”

I wouldn’t hate it if the Jaguars went with Neal over either of the big-name edge rushers. Neal isn’t a perfect offensive tackle prospect, but we’ve all seen how difficult it’s been for Lawrence to function behind Jacksonville’s offensive line this year. If he’s going to have any chance at reaching his immense upside, he needs to first remain upright. A player like Neal helps accomplish that goal, and if that box gets checked, the Jaguars will be a lot closer to winning football games than they would be with an enhanced pass rush.

Bryan Perez

Bryan is the founder of Pro Football Draft. His work has been featured on The Draft Network, NBC Sports and USA Today. Former CFL scout.

Follow him on Twitter: @BryanPerezNFL