He took the Green Bay Packers' offer, well aware of the stacked depth chart ahead of him. Eddie Lacy is the reigning Rookie of the Year. James Starks, who led the NFL in yards per carry, re-signed in free agency. A fourth-round pick was invested last year in Johnathan Franklin. If not for a knee injury, DuJuan Harris was the team's projected starter. Michael Hill is back, as well, and they signed another undrafted rookie, LaDarius Perkins.
"If you look around the league, what running back group isn't pretty deep?" Neal said on Saturday. "Honestly, it's a game of competition and it brings out the best in everybody. It's something I definitely thought about but I thought this was the place that showed the most interest and really wanted me."
Neal (5-11, 211), who was moved to receiver for part of 2011 due to injuries at the position, had a productive career at Tennessee. As a senior, he rushed for 1,124 yards (5.2-yard average) and 12 touchdowns, with big games against Georgia (148 yards and two touchdowns) and Auburn (124 yards and one touchdown). Even while playing sparingly in the backfield as a freshman and sophomore, Neal finished his career with 2,267 rushing yards (5.1 average), caught an impressive 66 passes for 626 yards (9.5 average) and totaled 24 touchdowns.
It's that versatility that makes Neal such an intriguing option, even in a loaded backfield.
"Definitely, man," Neal said when asked if versatility is his calling card. "I would love to catch a lot of balls for these guys and just be a contributor in any way I can. Anything they need me to do, I know I can do it."
Despite his resume and athleticism (4.44 in the 40-yard dash at Tennessee's pro day), he was not among the 19 tailbacks that were drafted.
"It definitely caught me by surprise but I think everything happens for a reason," he said. "It's definitely humbling and it definitely makes you work harder and appreciate everything that's coming toward you. It definitely gives you a different outlook on life and what you think about yourself."
Now, his goal is to show the rest of the league what they missed.
"You know, in so many words, but I'm just going to prove that I'm worthy of the opportunity that I got," he said.
Being overlooked isn't entirely new for Neal. At Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, Ga., Neal was regarded as a three-star recruit and the No. 31 back in the nation by Scout.com but wasn't recruited by in-state powers Georgia and Georgia Tech. Then he wasn't invited to the Scouting Combine and didn't get a call during the seven-round draft.
"The Packers showed a lot of interest and I'm definitely appreciative of the shot that they've given me here," Neal added. "(After the draft), my agent just gave me the call and told me the Packers are about to call you. As soon as we got on the phone, it was congratulations. That's all I needed to here, and I got my stuff ready and came up here."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.