NFL Draft Could the New York Giants pass on Evan Neal?

Alabama offensive lineman Evan Neal (Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports)
Alabama offensive lineman Evan Neal (Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports) /

Could the New York Giants pass one Evan Neal, one of the premier offensive tackles in this year’s NFL Draft class, and forego taking a tackle in Round 1? 

Evan Neal is widely viewed by many as the premier offensive tackle prospect in this year’s NFL Draft, and there has even been some conversation about him potentially being the Jacksonville Jaguars’ selection with the No. 1 overall pick.

Conventional wisdom suggests the New York Giants would do cartwheels if he’s available when they go on the clock with the No. 5 overall pick.

But, what if Giants general manager Joe Schoen goes in a different direction?

That’s exactly what happens in Pro Football Focus’ latest mock draft, as the New York Giants go on the clock with the No. 5 overall selection with only Aiden Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Derek Stingly Jr., and Kyle Hamilton off the board with the first four selections.

In this scenario, the Giants wind up tabbing Cincinnati’s “Sauce” Gardner, viewed by some as the top cornerback in this year’s class:

"Gardner allowed just 131 yards across 14 games and 482 coverage snaps in 2021, a performance that will forever be known as one of the best ever seasons by a college defensive back.Impressively, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder did that while playing mainly on an island in press-man coverage. He closed out his three-year college career without allowing a single touchdown despite playing over 1,100 coverage snaps. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will be able to trust him to win on an island sooner rather than later."

Drafting Gardner would certainly provide insurance against potentially losing All-Pro James Bradberry via trade in the secondary, as well as an immediate impact player and day one starter on the back-end of Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense.

At pick No. 7, in this scenario, the Giants select Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean.

"Not only was Dean the highest-graded off-ball linebacker of 2021, but he’s the only linebacker in the PFF College era to earn a 90.0-plus PFF grade in coverage and as a pass-rusher.The Georgia product racked up 31 pressures and 15 passing stops in 2021,  both of which ranked top-10 among Power Five linebackers. He also ranked sixth in the Power Five in pass-rush win rate (22.3%), allowed a first down at the lowest rate among linebackers (13.5%) and didn’t surrender a single touchdown."

In a vacuum, there’s an argument to be made that drafting two playmakers on a defense that has been devoid of game-changing talent for several years would be prudent, especially in a class as top-heavy on potentially elite defenders as this one appears to be.

But, it feels as though failing to select a premier offensive tackle to pair opposite Andrew Thomas to both hasten a long overdue rebuild and set the foundation for Brian Daboll’s offense in the head coach’s first season, would be a colossal mistake.

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