Giants’ struggling third-year offensive lineman could be the team’s ‘X-Factor’ in 2024

New York Giants offensive tackle Evan Neal (73) blocks San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium
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The New York Giants’ offensive line has been their biggest weakness for years. They have made attempts to fix the unit, spending high draft picks and plenty of salary cap space in free agency on talent to upgrade the five positions. However, some of their biggest swings at the position have been some of their biggest misses.

In 2022, the Giants drafted Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal with the seventh overall pick in the draft. Neal has struggled terribly throughout his first two seasons in the league. But entering year three, Neal has a chance to play a critical role in the Giants’ success this season.

PFF names Evan Neal the Giants’ “X-Factor”

Jan 8, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants offensive tackle Evan Neal (73) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 8, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants offensive tackle Evan Neal (73) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In an article ranking every NFL roster entering the 2024 season, Pro Football Focus’s Jim Wyman and Dalton Wasserman listed Neal as the Giants’ “X-Factor” entering the season:

“Evan Neal’s struggles are emblematic of the Giants’ offensive line struggles as a whole,” PFF wrote. “He has posted just a 42.5 overall grade through his first two seasons. 2024 is a make-or-break year for Neal, and there could be pressure on him to perform early in the season, with Jermaine Eluemunor fully capable of starting at right tackle in his stead.”

As Wyman and Wasserman mention, Neal’s job is on the line this season. New York finally brought in some competition at right tackle with the veteran Eluemunor being more than capable of starting at the position. If Neal doesn’t step up this season, he could lose his starting job. However, if he does step up, the rest of the offensive line will fall into place.

If Neal pans out, the rest of the Giants’ offensive line will fall into place

New York Giants offensive tackle Evan Neal (73) and New York Giants offensive tackle Andrew Thomas (78) exit the field after defeating the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium
Aug 18, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants offensive tackle Evan Neal (73) and New York Giants offensive tackle Andrew Thomas (78) exit the field after defeating the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

If Neal plays well at right tackle, the rest of the Giants’ offensive line takes a much nicer shape. Eluemunor could play right guard, a position that he has played at a high level in the past. Jon Runyan Jr., one of the Giants’ marquee free-agency signings this offseason, could play his natural position of left guard.

The Giants currently have Runyan practicing at right guard at OTAs despite him stating to the media that he feels more comfortable on the left side. The Giants’ lack of trust in Neal is likely the reason for Runyan’s positioning on the right side at practice so far. The coaching staff likely feels like Runyan can best mask Neal’s weaknesses.

Neal could eventually be moved inside to guard if he does continue to struggle. Which side of the line he would play on remains to be seen. Neal played left guard during his time at Alabama but has never lined up at right guard before. However, with the left side being Runyan’s preference, and with Eluemunor being a right tackle, right guard might make the most sense for Neal on the interior.

Ideally, the starting five would have Andrew Thomas at left tackle, Runyan at his preferred position of left guard, John Michael Schmitz at center, Eluemunor at right guard, and Neal taking that step forward at right tackle.

However, taking that step forward will be easier said than done. In 2023, Neal earned a 39.8 overall PFF grade after surrendering 29 pressures and two sacks in only seven games started. The Giants need him to take a big step forward in 2024 as the success of the offensive line ultimately hinges on their former top-10 draft pick.

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