Have you ever watched Nat Geo with the thousands of hatched baby turtles sprinting towards the water only for seagulls to swoop down and pick them up? That’s much like the lifecycle of offensive lineman in the NFL. The first year for an NFL lineman is the most critical. Compared to tight ends who take a couple years to develop, lineman are more often thrust into a vulnerable condition with high stakes and little room for error. Just like the little turtle, their first moments and a little bit of luck define everything.
Even if they aren’t playing their first year, an offensive lineman can learn, develop, and rotate occasionally with the seasoned veterans on the roster. It doesn’t always have to be a sink or swim mentality for Freshman.
That’s why Laremy Tunsil staying in Houston is all the more reason for the Texans to draft Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal, or any elite tackle of their choosing. If Evan Neal doesn’t go first to the Jaguars, he should inevitably fall to the Texans at the third pick. If so, he’d be the ideal candidate to backup Tunsil and play across from Howard on the line for the next decade.
Neal is for all intents and purposes the prototypical, idealized left tackle in the NFL. At 6-7, 350 pounds and with footwork that could impress on Dancing With The Stars, Neal is destined to be good to great in this league. There aren’t many humans who can do what Neal can.
Neal skipped his NFL combine and will wait until his Pro Day on the 30th to showcase his skills. His performance hopefully will lock him into the third overall pick. At the very least his size, speed, footwork, and game tape alone should lock him into a top-10 pick.
It’s less than rare for any offensive lineman to have a standout rookie year. Rashawn Slater’s performance this year for the Chargers was a knockout his first year. So was Penei Sewell for Detroit (who will hopefully be the reason the Lions don’t take Neal second overall). Neal has the experience and raw talent to immediately start, but is that what’s best for him?
Texans saw Tytus Howard struggle his first year. That first year growing pains have affected his entire career. Unable to lock down a single position on the line and surrounded by lesser-thans, Howard has floated and disappointed. He is built similarly to Neal, or rather the other way around, but is also destined to be a left tackle too.
The most significant scuttlebutt of drafting Neal will be the log jam that will occur for the left tackle spot. Howard has been the incumbent for the position while Tunsil holds the crown. Depending on the roster configuration, Howard has either replaced an injured Tunsil, played next to him at left guard, or played right tackle. With Neal, who can also play right tackle too, there will be three heads for one body. When Tunsil inevitably leaves, will Howard take over, or fill in at his right tackle spot where he hasn’t been as productive?
Texans strategy this draft must be to take the best player on the board at all times. Hopefully that is Evan Neal with the third overall pick. Neal will benefit from learning behind two solid pros, and the Texans will be better for it.