NFL draft 2022 – How snake-twirling potential No. 1 pick Evan Neal makes everything look easy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Even a 6-foot-7, 337-pound photo voltaic eclipse of a human being can get misplaced within the grand constellation of stars that’s Nick Saban’s Alabama soccer program.

No matter how dominant, it is close to inconceivable for an offensive lineman to compete with 5 2021 first-spherical NFL draft picks on offense, a Heisman-winning QB (Bryce Young) and one of the crucial fearsome move-rushers in latest reminiscence who rivals Young as a potential 2023 No. 1 pick (Will Anderson Jr.).

But now’s Evan Neal‘s time. And that is not shocking to those that’ve seen the left deal with’s linear rise by way of the 2 colleges thought-about America’s foremost soccer factories — IMG Academy and Alabama. While at these stops, he has accrued the sport tape, observe reps in opposition to different future execs and a résumé that has emanated an unsurprising air to his standing as a consensus prime-10 pick.

“The child is a house run,” stated Texas offensive coordinator Kyle Flood, who was Neal’s place coach for 2 seasons at Alabama. “He’s a no-brainer. If you want an offensive deal with on the prime of draft, you would be loopy to not take him. He’s going to begin 10-plus years in that league and he’ll be an All-Pro.”

Along with main these colleges to a file of 64-5 over the previous six seasons, Neal established such a strong popularity — “protected,” “no holes” and “makes it look easy” have been the observations from one NFL scout — that his rise is hallmarked by its predictability.

Neal wears bookish glasses, drove a Dodge Ram round Alabama and was identified at IMG to casually twirl snakes. His severe demeanor, everyman mentality and no-upkeep popularity are anticipated to journey to his NFL vacation spot.

“You’re not going to get any drama with him,” stated Arkansas State coach Butch Jones, a former Alabama staffer. “He’s not very emotional. He’s very matter of truth. There’s not a number of threat concerned with taking him. He was a professional the day he walked into Alabama by way of his maturity.”

That evolution to a positive factor has carried with it an aura of inevitability.

FORMER IMG ACADEMY offensive line coach Derek Shay held a cookout for his place group in 2017, the type of get-to-know-you gathering that occurs throughout the nation every fall.

Neal arrived on foot, swinging a lifeless snake that he picked up alongside his stroll. The sight of a 6-foot-7 behemoth casually twirling a reptile is seared into the reminiscence of Shay and his spouse, Katie.

“She was shocked,” Shay stated with fun in a cellphone interview. “We’re from Illinois. He’s backwoods and obtained a little bit nation in him. He’s a down-to-earth, good child.”

That second supplied a window into Neal’s unassuming path, a nod to his household’s roots in rural Okeechobee, Florida, a city with a inhabitants just below 6,000 positioned between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Growing up there formed Neal’s humility, work ethic and focus, all traits that remained intertwined together with his rise. It additionally did not harm that Neal’s father, Eddie, performed linebacker at Tulane, and he had two uncles — Cleveland Gary and Jimmie Jones — who performed within the NFL.

“He’s an unlimited human being,” stated Oregon coach Dan Lanning, who coached in opposition to Neal as Georgia‘s defensive coordinator. “If he and [341-pound UGA defensive lineman] Jordan Davis walked right into a room collectively, they’d make everybody else inside 20 miles really feel extraordinarily uncomfortable.”

Neal helped IMG go 27-1 over three seasons and left the college because the No. 4 participant within the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2019. Soon after his arrival in Tuscaloosa, he confirmed the character that helped distinguish him there.

As a sophomore, Neal backed up Oklahoma lineman Robert Congel and stuffed in at guard when he obtained injured.

“Robert got here again wholesome, and Evan stated, ‘Hey, hear, it is his spot,'” stated Don Zoloty, IMG’s soccer properties supervisor. “‘He’s a senior and must get again in. I’m right here to help him.’

“That instructed us out of the gate what Evan’s character was going to be like. He’s a pacesetter. Period.”

But to mildew that 6-foot-7 physique required overcoming one of many few speedbumps of adversity on his path to the NFL draft.

IMG Academy is a highschool set on a 600-acre campus in Bradenton, Florida, that additionally serves as a coaching heart for skilled athletes. That allowed Neal to run into longtime NFL lineman Bryan Bulaga someday within the weight room. Bulaga, who’s getting into his twelfth NFL season, noticed Neal’s large body nonetheless holding onto an excessive amount of child fats and delivered a stern however correct evaluation: “If your objective is to be knowledgeable soccer participant, you are going to need to get your physique in higher form.”

Neal was a bit rattled by the recommendation, in accordance with Shay, as he’d rocketed to stardom and change into an elite recruit with out an excessive amount of blunt criticism. But after some preliminary bristling, the dialog turned a turning level. “It was like a lightweight change flipped,” Shay stated. “He become a special child.”

At IMG, Neal performed on a workforce throughout his junior yr that already has had 10 gamers drafted into the NFL. He and fellow large deal with Daniel Faalele (6-foot-8, 384 kilos) of Minnesota will bump that quantity to 12. Neal relished his day by day battles with gamers like present Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith, who completed as ESPN’s No. 2 general recruit in Neal’s class and can be a prime 2023 NFL prospect.

“Pretty a lot all the faculty coaches you spoke to have been on the identical web page,” Zoloty stated. “They checked out [Evan] and his athleticism, and [his potential was] nearly a given. You simply did not need to screw it up.”

WHEN FLOOD ARRIVED as Alabama’s offensive line coach in January 2019, he had by no means met Neal. It did not take lengthy for Flood to appreciate Neal would fulfill his huge potential.

Flood defined to Neal of their first assembly that with skilled tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr. returning — each of whom turned first-spherical picks — that it would be powerful for him to seize a beginning deal with spot.

Flood recalled Neal’s response: “I do not care the place I play, I simply need to play.”

That similar snake-twirling, downhome angle had clearly carried over to school, as Neal turned the uncommon Alabama true freshman to begin on the offensive line, profitable a beginning spot on the inside. He sought observe reps with imposing veterans like Christian Barmore and Raekwon Davis.

“Every child lately thinks they’re the following Anthony Munoz,” Flood stated. “From Day 1, his angle was that of a child who simply wished to compete.”

Neal began at left guard in 2019, switched to proper deal with in 2020 for Alabama’s nationwide title season and performed the entire season at left deal with final yr. Neal’s lone sack allowed in 2021 got here on the season’s remaining play within the nationwide championship loss to Georgia.

Neal began 40 video games in three seasons and grew so dominant he allowed pressures on simply 1.1 % of his move blocks final season.

“I feel he actually exemplifies the mildew of an Alabama man, everything that Coach Saban preaches about ‘The Process’ and dedication and what it takes to be good,” Alabama redshirt senior Emil Ekiyor Jr. instructed ESPN. “He embodies that and tries to do it every single day. The man has labored his butt off, and he is reaping the advantages of it proper now.”

Perhaps extra well-known than any single play Neal made on the sphere at Alabama is the clip that epitomizes his athleticism: a 48-inch cut up leg field bounce that popped up on social media final summer season. It’s merely outlandish explosiveness for a human his measurement.

By the time Neal reached the NFL mix, he carried a chiseled 337 kilos on his 6-foot-7 body, holding that a lot weight so casually he regarded extra like a smooth tight finish than a beefy deal with. That’s spectacular contemplating Shay estimates Neal arrived at Alabama round 380 — his listed highschool weight was 365 — and labored laborious on his physique to change into an elite prospect.

“He’s one of many higher physique sorts I’ve seen on the highway,” a second NFL scout who studied Neal instructed ESPN. “How he holds 350 kilos, that is what he performed at this yr, he is not fats in any respect. He’s actually, actually spectacular bodily.”

Neal missed only one sport throughout his profession — in opposition to Arkansas through the 2020 season as a result of he stated he contracted COVID-19. That additionally meant he could not observe the week of the SEC title sport in opposition to Florida, even after he flew over on a non-public aircraft the evening earlier than the sport. “I used to be mainly a sofa potato for 2 weeks,” he stated.

Ekiyor recalled Neal respiratory so closely within the SEC title sport that he needed to repeat some line calls as a result of Neal was so targeted on catching his breath. Alabama staffers nonetheless bear in mind him darting to the oxygen tank on the sideline between sequence.

They nonetheless chuckle on the reminiscence of the oxygen masks trying like a bottle cap in his large palms, instantly fogging up as he gasped for air. “It felt like I used to be respiratory by way of a espresso straw,” he stated.

Flood and Ekiyor take into account that one among Neal’s finest and most memorable performances, as Alabama scored 52 factors and amassed 605 yards. “I nonetheless to at the present time do not understand how he did it,” Ekiyor stated.

Neal’s sport is not flawless. Scouts query his aggressiveness, given his character and enjoying fashion, and say issues like, “You do not know if he performs tremendous laborious as a result of he makes it look so easy.”

Another pointed on the market’s room for enchancment, together with staying on his ft higher and sustaining blocks. Many offensive linemen are fifth-yr school gamers, so Neal being comparatively inexperienced is an indication that there is room to develop.

There’s additionally loads of nuanced traits that stand out, as Flood has been singing his praises to the NFL: “He has an uncanny skill to bend at his measurement. He’s 6-foot-7 and may nonetheless block low to excessive and get beneath smaller folks. He does that higher than anybody, he wins low persistently.”

On the interview dais on the NFL mix, Neal stood with full consciousness of his place on the cusp of Alabama lore. If he goes No. 1 or No. 2, he would change into the best Alabama draft selection coached by Saban. He’ll additionally certainly assist Saban tie John Robinson of USC for probably the most first-spherical offensive linemen for one coach (9) within the widespread draft period.

Asked if it bothered him that he has been overshadowed by greater-profile teammates, he casually batted away the notion as if nonetheless twirling a snake.

“I’m an offensive lineman, man,” he stated with fun. “It’s all guts and no glory within the trenches. … I’m glad for all of these guys, glad for his or her success, and I’m excited to share a few of that with these guys.”

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