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Evan Neal and Ikem Ekwonu’s paths cross again after NFL draft debate

Faced with two identical grades, the Giants got extra credit for doing their homework.

After no offensive tackle was selected in the top four picks of the 2022 NFL Draft, Giants general manager Joe Schoen admitted he could skillfully manipulate the board by drafting passing thrower Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5 and awaiting an offensive tackle at No. 7. The luxury of having Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal ranked “side by side” was the comfort the Giants could allow the needy Panthers to choose between the two at No. 6 (they picked Ekwonu) and pick up the other, which they did when they picked Neal.

The Giants even turned down an opportunity to trade up to No. 6, make back-to-back picks and secure the offensive tackle of their liking when the Panthers tried to make a deal in the first round of the draft, several said. sources. This phone call suggests that, like the Giants, the Panthers saw no separation between two offensive tackles – whether it was Ekwonu and Neal or Ekwonu and Charles Cross, who went to the Seahawks at No. 9.

Evan Neal
Noah K. Murray – NY Post

Neal and Ewkonu’s paths will converge on Sunday when Ekwonu will be at left tackle for the Panthers as they visit the Giants, who will have Neal at right tackle.

“I don’t measure up to anyone. I don’t like comparing myself to anyone but myself,” Neal told the Post. “But I will obviously follow these guys and follow their success. We are all in the same field.

Neal’s NFL debut (two quarterback pressures allowed) went smoother than Ekwonu’s (four pressures, including two sacks), but only Ekwonu was thrown into the fire against the two-time All-Pro Myles Garrett.

“He got better as the game went on,” Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. “He went through a tough time in the middle but he kept fighting.”

Neal’s mission will get tougher on Sunday against Carolina’s Brian Burns, who is coming off consecutive nine-sack seasons.

“Playing against first teams, I could tell the guys had a bit more experience playing the ball,” Neal said. “It was probably half a step faster [than the preseason], but I was ready to do my best to help my team win. Carolina has a fast group that can get up on you. Brian Burns is a really talented guy – a long, sneaky, elusive guy, so I’m excited to go to war with him.

Both Neal and Ekwonu were mentioned as potential No. 1 overall picks, but the Jaguars opted for defensive lineman Travon Walker instead.

With the Panthers on the clock, Neal braced himself for the possibility of hearing his name. Instead, he was forced to wait another 10 minutes. The financial difference between the No. 6 and No. 7 picks is around $3 million over the length of a four-year contract.

“I was ready for anything,” Neal said. “I just came in with the mindset that whatever hand was dealt to me, I was going to be happy. I’m thrilled to be here. New York is so different from what I’m used to. from a small country town [in Florida]. It was a nice change to come here.

The consensus among NFL scouts was that Ekwonu is the best run blocker, the best finisher and a potential All-Pro guard if he ever moves. Neal was considered the best pass blocker, able to play tackle on either side of the line and more ready for the pros.

Neal checked head coach Brian Daboll’s three key boxes before the draft: Smart. Hard. Sure. How did he do in Week 1?

“He communicated well with his teammates up front,” Daboll said. “I thought it was a good start. Definitely, things to build on. He’s out there, usually blocking a peak first rusher, so there’s an element of speed that he has to adapt to, like all the recruits. But I think he did a good job.

Evan Neal and Ikem Ekwonu’s paths cross again after NFL draft debate
Ikem Ekwonu

Offensive line coach Bobby Johnson added, “I was really impressed with the way he kept his composure.”

If the Panthers had preferred Neal, well, the Giants saw a lot of upside in Ekwonu.

“I had a very good experience with him in the draft process, both as a person and as a player,” Daboll said. “I think he’s going to be a good player for a long time.”

Johnson added, “He talks about the good stuff, which is why he was on our board at the level he was at.”

Two paths will diverge again after the game. Neal’s only concern is an upward trajectory.

“I feel we are lucky to be a very good line,” he said. “We’ve shown that in spurts, but we have to build on that.”


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