How much worse was the Giants’ Evan Neal than other top-10 tackles?

When New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen was asked why he selected Evan Neal with the seventh overall pick in the 2022 draft, he replied, “Because Ickey [Ekwonu] was gone at six.” That sent many media members into a frenzy, thinking Neal was a consolation prize and that Schoen had Ekwonu higher on his board.

What the GM had said just before that, though, was that he had the two tackles placed side by side. Because Ekwonu was off the board, the decision to select Neal was an easy one.

Ekwonu and Neal were joined in the top 10 of the draft by Charles Cross of the Seahawks, which was number nine overall. The trio will likely be linked for years to come. However, their rookie seasons were a mixed bag – with Neal clearly coming out on top.

The question is, however, how much worse was neal than his mates? Were Ekwonu and Cross instant studs or do they also have room to improve? How can Neal close the gap in Year 2?

Passport blocking

Offensive line performance is notoriously difficult to quantify statistically. The best pass-blocking numbers available are Pro Football Focus grades and pressure rates and Sports Info Solutions’ total points and blown block rate.

Here were those comparative numbers and ranks among 70 qualified tackles (min. 250 pass-blocking snaps).

Ikem Ekwonu vs. Evan Neal vs. Charles Cross Pass Blocking, 2022

Player Print speed Sack + Hit Rate True Pass Set Pressure Rate True Pass Set Sack Plus Hit Rate Pass Blocking Blown Block Rate Pass blocking points PFF passed blocking grade
Player Print speed Sack + Hit Rate True Pass Set Pressure Rate True Pass Set Sack Plus Hit Rate Pass Blocking Blown Block Rate Pass blocking points PFF passed blocking grade
Ikem Ekwonu 4.89% (30th) 1.27% (22nd) 9.61% (50th) 1.75% (18th) 4.6% (54th) 10 (T-47.) 67.5 (45th)
Evan Neal 8.61% (67th) 3.75% (69th) 16% (69th) 5.92% (69th) 5.0% (61st) 9 (T-54.) 47.5 (65th)
Charles Cross 6.93% (59th) 1.59% (29th) 10.8% (55th) 2.16% (25th) 4.8% (60th) 15 (T-30.) 63.9 (54th)

It’s clear that Neal was quite a bit behind the other two tackles as a pass blocker. While Cross and Ekwonu had their strengths and weaknesses, Neal was negative across the board.

All three players struggled with pressure in true pass sets, which are situations where the blocker goes straight up against a pass rusher without a screen, play-action or quick release to skew the numbers. In other words, when the quarterback had a straight drop back pass, they all faced more than average pressure from the side of their first-round tackles. Still, Neal was by far the worst, ranking second to last among tackles with an eye-popping 16% pressure rate in true pass sets.

There really was no saving Neal as a pass blocker. He was among the bottom five tackles in most statistical areas. Ekwonu kept his pressure rate low enough to be slightly above average, and Cross gave up a lot of pressure but still managed to keep his quarterback from getting hit too often. Neal did none of that: Daniel Jones was often pressured and hit on a regular basis.

Run blocking

Run blocking can be even more difficult to gauge because of the many moving parts along the blocking scheme of a run game. For this, PFF grades and SIS blown block rate and points added are pretty much the only numbers out there.

Here is the head-to-head comparison in the running game.

Ikem Ekwonu vs. Evan Neal vs. Charles Cross Run-Blocking, 2022

Player PFF Run Block Grade Blown Run Block Rate Run Points added
Player PFF Run Block Grade Blown Run Block Rate Run Points added
Ikem Ekwonu 64.0 (37th) 1.8% (T-34.) 14 (T-15.)
Evan Neal 48.2 (T-64.) 1.1% (T-16th) 10 (T-35.)
Charles Cross 62.8 (39th) 1.1% (T-16th) 14 (T-15.)

Per PFF, Ekwonu and Cross were close to league-average run-blockers, while Neal was still among the league’s worst.


The penalties called against an offensive lineman cannot be excluded in their overall evaluation. False starts and holding penalties can be driving and wipe out huge plays.

Here were the players’ snaps per penalty:

  • Gender – 78.3 (66th)
  • Neal – 105 (56th)
  • Cross – 155 (29th)

Ekwonu was called for a whopping seven penalties on the season, tied for second most among tackles. He compounded that with four false starts for 11 total penalties. The one area where Neal was actually okay was holding penalties when he had none, but he made up for that with six false starts. Cross was called for three team penalties, two false starts and two other penalties for a total of nine. Even though Neal had the fewest total penalties, his lower snap count still made Cross more efficient in terms of penalties.

Can Neal recover?

Statistically, Neal isn’t the first top-10 tackle in history to struggle mightily. Obviously, Giants fans will turn to Andrew Thomas as a classic example, but Thomas improved far more in the second half of his rookie season than Neal did. Also, it’s a bit much to expect Neal to be a second-team All-Pro by his third year.

From 2010 (the furthest back that PFF has all offensive line grades listed) through 2017, there were 12 tackles in the top 10 picks NFL Draft. Here were their rookie PFF grades and then the average of their grades over their next five seasons (minimum 425 snaps).

  • Ronnie Stanley: 74.8 / 78.0 (+4.1%)
  • Jack Conklin: 80.6 / 73.5 (-8.8%)
  • Ereck Flowers: 54.9 / 66.4 (+17.3%)
  • Greg Robinson: 61.3 / 61.8 (+0.8%)
  • Jake Matthews: 59.7 / 78.3 (+31.2%)
  • Eric Fisher: 57.8 / 71.8 (+24.2%)
  • Luke Joeckel: 58.0 / 65.3 (+12.6%)
  • Lane Johnson: 73.5 / 79.6 (+8.3%)
  • Matt Kalil: 77.4 / 67.2 (-13.1%)
  • Tyron Smith: 80.2 / 85.1 (+6.1%)
  • Trent Williams: 63.4 / 83.0 (+30.9%)
  • Russell Okung: 69.2 / 74.6 (+7.8%)

The average rookie season grade was 67.6, which would have ranked 41st out of 70 tackles in 2022. Over the next five years, the average grade rose to 73.7, which would have ranked 24th. The median rookie grade was 65 .3 (45th), and the median over the next five seasons was 74.1 (23rd). In other words, on average, these tackles improved from below average to above average tackles.

While that bodes well for Neal, the downside is that none of those tackles were as bad as he was as rookies. His 44.1 grade was 10.8 points lower than the lowest rookie grade from 2010-17, which incidentally belonged to another Giants first-rounder in Flowers.

The average improvement from a player’s rookie season over his next five years was 10.1% over his original grade. If Neal improves by that amount, his average grade over the next five years will be just 48.6, which almost certainly means he probably won’t be a starter in the league. Therefore, he needs to match or surpass the biggest jumps on this list, Jake Matthews (+31.2%) and Trent Williams (+30.9%). Even that superlative level of improvement would give him a grade between 57.7 and 57.9, which would still have ranked in the bottom 10 among tackles in 2022.

That said, seeing Williams on this list offers a ray of hope. It does does not think Neal will be Williams or anywhere close to him, but the best tackle in the NFL today was nowhere near that level as a rookie. Thomas isn’t the only elite tackle who took a significant Year 2 jump after underwhelming as a rookie.

The odds are stacked against Neal at this point. The fact that the Giants are so heavily reliant on a big second-year improvement from him is troubling. Let’s not give up on 2022’s seventh overall pick just yet, though.

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