There was a time when Evan Neal said he would, if not pig out, certainly give in to temptation. That meant devouring not one, but two of his favorite fast food cravings: a Chick-Fil-A spicy meal combo.
“Can’t do that these days,” Neal said late last month at his Alabama Pro Day workout.
“These days” are spent training and preparing for the NFL draft. Neal will hear his name called early on the night of April 28, not long after the first round begins. For all Nick Saban has accomplished at Alabama, sending top-shelf prospects into the NFL with assembly-line precision, none of his Crimson Tide players has ever been the No. 1 selection.
“Wherever I get drafted, I’ll be extremely happy,” Neal said. “What prospect wouldn’t want to go No. 1? That would be a dream come true for sure.
“It would mean everything. There are a whole lot of Alabama players who were worthy of being drafted in that spot. For it to be me would be really special. Make the whole state of Alabama proud, the university for sure.”
The Jaguars own the No. 1 pick and they are not expected to go with Neal, but you never know. Heck, Neal might not be the first offensive lineman to hear his name, as Ickey Ekwonu from North Carolina State could be first off the board.
There is little doubt Neal or Ekwonu will not get past the Giants at No. 5. They are different prospects though. Ekwonu might develop into an All-Pro guard, and he delighted the media throng at the scouting combine in early March with his engaging personality. Neal was more businesslike and his physique is far different from the burly Ekwonu. Neal is 6-foot-7 /₂ and 337 pounds. He actually looks svelte in shorts and a T-shirt. With his long frame and longer arms, Neal is already an accomplished pass protector.
There are no questions about Neal’s NFL readiness as an immediate starter at left or right tackle. The only concern from scouts is whether he will accept being very good at the expense of working to be great. The upside potential in Neal, his ceiling, might not be as high as a team desires out of a top-five draft pick.
There is not much more Neal could have accomplished as a college player. He was a three-year starter at left guard, right tackle and left tackle. He served as a pass protector for Mac Jones and Bryce Young and won two SEC championships and one College Football Playoff National Championship.
Neal did so much, in fact, that he did not see the need to do much more. He did not participate in any drills at the combine, and during his Pro Day on March 30, Neal took part in positional drills but did not run the 40-yard dash or line up for the broad jump.
“That’s what you go to college for, to put it on tape,” Neal said. “The NFL is going to watch it, and that’s what they judge you based on. The tape.”
The tape is darn good.
“His size and athletic ability has put him in a position where I think he has a very bright future,” Saban said. “He did a great job for us, whether he played guard or tackle. I’m sure that diversity will help him as a pro player as well.”
As fit and sculpted as he looks heading into the draft, NFL teams know Neal has played at a much heavier weight — 350 pounds — and that is, if not a worry, certainly a factor in determining Neal’s long-term durability. He never missed a game at Alabama.
“I’ve always just been a big guy,” Neal said. “I never looked at myself as having a weight problem. I felt comfortable playing at all of those weights, but I definitely feel more comfortable at the weight I’m at now.”
Neal said he consumes 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day, eating healthier than he has in the past.
“Lean meats like rotisserie chicken and rice and steak,” Neal said. “I’m allergic to seafood, so I can’t eat fish or anything like that, which is a bummer. So I eat turkey. Things like that. A lot of beans. protein.”
Keeping his large frame balanced is an ongoing process. Neal said with his pass blocking and also his run blocking “at times my base will tend to tighten up on me and I’ll raise up and get high and that will tend to make me fall off blocks or get thrown.”
These are correctable technique tweaks. He is considered to be a franchise offensive tackle and will get selected very high in the first round. Not first, most likely, but soon thereafter.