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Top projected NFL Draft pick Evan Neal touts versatility, durability

Top projected NFL Draft pick Evan Neal touts versatility, durability
Former Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal answers questions at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday at the Indianapolis Convention Center in Indianapolis. Photo by Alex Butler/UPI

INDIANAPOLIS, March 3 (UPI) -- Former Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal, who weighed in at 336 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, said versatility and durability are among key traits that make him the potential No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Neal, 21, listed at 350 pounds on Alabama's roster, spoke to reporters during his combine media session Thursday at the Indianapolis Convention Center. He is widely expected to be the first player picked April 28 in Las Vegas.

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"I would definitely feel a sense of pride," Neal said when asked what it would mean to be the first player selected in the draft.

"There are other extremely incredible athletes here. It would be great to be No. 1 overall," he said.

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The 6-foot-7 offensive lineman won't participate in drills in Indianapolis, but will perform in exercises for NFL decision-makers at Alabama's pro day March 30.

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If Neal's name is called first and he is drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he would be the first non-quarterback to go No. 1 overall since 2017, when the Cleveland Browns picked defensive end Myles Garrett.

Neal is in line for a much bigger payday at No. 1 overall than he would be if picked later in the first round. The top slot is expected to receive a contract worth $41.4 million, according to Spotrac.com.

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The player picked second is expected receive nearly $2 million less.

The players picked at No. 6 and No. 32 overall are expected to receive $10 million and nearly $30 million less, respectively, than the top player in their first contracts.

In the past 50 years, just three offensive tackles have been selected No. 1 overall. Neal also could become the first former Alabama player to be the first pick since Harry Gilmer in 1968, despite the Crimson Tide's recent domination of college football and recent run of Heisman Trophy winners.

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"You have a whole lot of Alabama players who were worthy of the No. 1 spot," Neal said. "If it's me, that will be extremely special. The state of Alabama will be proud and the University of Alabama will definitely be proud."

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Neal said he can play every position on the offensive line, other than center. He started 38 games at Alabama as a regular on the Crimson Tide's stalwart offensive line over his three-year tenure in Tuscaloosa.

Neal played guard his entire freshman season. He swapped in at right and left tackle over his final two seasons.

"I was the No. 1 offensive tackle coming out of high school and immediately got moved to right guard," Neal said. "I've embraced it and been my best.

"I see myself as a tackle, but will do whatever my team needs me to do."

Alabama coach Nick Saban also often called Neal one of the team's leaders. His teammates elected him as captain for the 2021 campaign.

The Okeechobee, Fla., native majored in communication studies and was one of three dozen Alabama players to make the honor roll for those who earned a grade-point average of 3.0 or better.

His intelligence and willingness to move to other positions on the offensive line will be attractive for NFL teams, who often deal with injuries at key positions.

He can start his career either as a guard if his next team already employs a great tackle and later move to another position or stay in as a permanent exterior protector.

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Neal, who refers to himself as a "work in progress," said he grew up idolizing former Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Larry Allen. He said he now picks up tips on energy and tenacity from San Francisco 49ers tackle Trent Williams and Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith.

The former Alabama star has a bigger frame than both of those All-Pro veterans.

"I feel like I can make an immediate impact like i did at Alabama," Neal said. "Everything will present a challenge and I'll have my growing pains, but as I acclimate to the speed of the game, I feel like I can make the adjustments."

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