Evan Neal could be Jaguars’ safest bet at No. 1 in the 2022 NFL Draft

Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t been good at identifying talent in the first round of the NFL Draft. With the exception of Trevor Lawrence, none of their recent picks look like franchise building blocks and if they want to contend for a playoff spot year in and year out, they will need to buck the trend. This year, the Jags will have several prospects to choose from with the first overall pick but Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal might be their best bet.

Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports recently drew up a mock draft and says he can’t recall the last time there was so much uncertainty about how the top of the draft will unfold. He points out that there doesn’t seem to see a consensus No. 1 prospect. Nevertheless, he thinks the Jaguars would help Trevor Lawrence immensely by drafting Neal first overall.

"Last year the Bengals showed us that, sometimes, the best way to help your quarterback is to draft a great receiver instead of an offensive lineman. There are no Ja’Marr Chases in this draft, though, so a tackle makes the most sense here."

Neal is one of the top prospects in this year’s draft and a good bet to be selected by the Jaguars with the top selection. Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Aiden Hutchinson are the other two. Fornelli pegged Hutchinson to the Detriot Lions at No. 2 and sees Thibodeaux landing with the Houston Texans at No. 3. Ikem Ekwomu, a darkhorse candidate to go first overall, went to the New York Jets. All things considered, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the actual draft unfold in this way.

Drafting Evan Neal at No. 1 gives the Jaguars plenty of flexibility.

The Jaguars’ defense could certainly use another pass rusher caliber opposite Josh Allen but they can get a good one in free agency. Protecting Trevor Lawrence (and giving him weapons) should be the team’s priority this offseason, so taking Evan Neal wouldn’t generate plenty of excitement on Draft Day but it would ensure the Jags’ young passer doesn’t have to spend a good chunk of the game on his back.

Also, Neal would give Jacksonville plenty of flexibility upfront. If the front office re-signs Cam Robinson, they could plug Neal at guard and kick Walker Little to the right side. Similarly, if the Jags don’t bring back Robinson, Neal could line up either at left or right tackle and Little can take the other spot.

Of course, this won’t be an easy decision and the Jaguars could end up taking Thibodeaux or Hutchinson with the top pick. If that’s the case, they will need to ensure Robinson will return or pursue someone like Terron Armstead in free agency.

The Jaguars don’t have to worry about the quarterback position for the foreseeable future with Lawrence in place but that doesn’t mean they can just lay back. The front office needs to make sure their signal-caller is in a position to succeed, and that includes giving him a good offensive line. Drafting Neal would help them achieve that goal.

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