What NFL Draft analysts are saying about NC State nose tackle Alim McNeill
NC State Wolfpack football junior nose tackle Alim McNeill declared his intent to enter the 2021 NFL Draft the morning of the Pack's 2020 regular-season finale against Georgia Tech.
The 6-2, 320-pounder has been preparing for the draft for over two months now and will continue to be the most talked-about pro prospect from NC State between now and the NFL Draft, which starts April 29 and runs through May 1.
The Wolfpacker reached out to multiple NFL Draft analysts to get an understanding of the buzz around McNeill among pro teams. Here is what they had to say:
What is your initial impression of McNeill and where does he stand among interior defensive tackles in the 2021 draft class?
Dane Brugler, NFL Draft Analyst for The Athletic: "He played mostly at nose tackle, head over the center, so he didn't have a ton of just pure rush opportunities. He's heavy-handed. He battles with brass knuckles out there, it's really fun to watch him go.
"He's got that body type that projects well at the next level. Thick thighs, thick bubble. He plays close to the ground. He can really reset the line of scrimmage with that power that he has, but he also plays with quickness.
"He's routinely the first man out of his stance, so that helps him just eat up blockers and win gaps. He was part of a rotation, and that helped him stay fresh. That's part of it, but he's probably quicker than fast as a lineman, so he's not the rangiest player, not going to make a ton of plays outside of his square.
"His quickness and his power are a great place to start."
Austin Gayle, NFL Draft Analyst and Associate Director of Content for Pro Football Focus (PFF): "He's one of the better interior defensive tackles in the 2021 draft class. The only reason I feel like he's not being hyped up as a back-end first or even top of the second-rounder is because, overall, it's not a fantastic defensive tackle class.
"I still think he's very raw from a moves standpoint. He's 6-2, 320 pounds, explosive as all get out. He's a very talented athlete with good size to play the position in the NFL. There's still going to be a bit of a learning curve for him to add pass-rusher moves that work in the NFL. He wins right now with pure ability, pure explosiveness, pure athleticism, and that's what impresses you with McNeill off the table.
"Why I can understand that he's not talked about as a top-50 guy by everyone is that he still has a lot of work to do from a pass-rush moves perspective.
"Also, the value of guys that play interior defensive line is dropping in the NFL because they aren't that guys that always impact the pass. You're looking for edge defenders, wide receivers, quarterbacks, corners, before you start to look for interior defensive line as an impact type of player that you draft inside the top 15, top 20."
How does his background of playing the true nose tackle position in NC State's three-man front impact his draft stock?
Brugler: "Even though he did play the nose tackle and did see more double teams than maybe he would have if he was playing a different position, he's still able to show that power and that quickness he has.
"He didn't necessarily fill up the stat sheet, but I don't think that's a representation of his talent. The motto for NFL teams is 'traits over production.' Production and stats are great, but teams are going to want guys with traits that project to the next level. And McNeill has that with his body type, with his heavy hands, with the natural power that he offers, the energy that he plays.
"More so than if he had a few more sacks, the traits that he really puts on tape, that's what teams are going to like."
Gayle: "It's honestly insane that he had the success he did as a true nose. The guy was still getting after the passer while working from arguably the hardest alignment to get a pass rush, to get pressure, in college football and in the NFL.
"I still think there will be teams that want him to play that true nose. There's a ton of value in having a guy like Alim McNeill that can play the interior like that, or the two gap as needed. But even if he gets moved to a three-technique type, he's a very solid player who can have more success working against less of a phone booth and against guards than he is on the center with the two guards outside.
"I don't think it's necessarily a reason why he could be undervalued, I think it's more of a positive for him. Him being able to win as often as he did while playing against the center head up I think was really impressive."
Where are you hearing McNeill could have his name called in the draft?
Brugler: "He reminds me a lot of Javon Hargrave when he was coming out of college [in 2016], who was a third-round pick of the Steelers. McNeill's probably somewhere in that day two mix. He's a guy who can come in and be part of an interior rotation and really kind of carve out a career for himself."
Gayle: "I don't have a good read on where the NFL sees Alim McNeill right now. I think you'll see more of that when his testing comes out because I think he's going to test like a freak. For a guy at 320 pounds, I think you're going to see some pretty insane vertical jump, broad jump and 40 times for a guy of his size.
"Second round feels right. I think that's his ceiling right now — high-end second round is probably his ceiling. I don't imagine a world where he falls to the third. That would be pretty remarkable, in my opinion, to see a value like him fall to the third.
"His floor is back end of the second, top of the third if teams aren't as high on Alim McNeill for whatever reason."
Among current and former NFL players, who is somebody that makes for a good comparison for McNeill?
Brugler: "Javon Hargrave is a guy that has a similar body type. He had a good run with the Steelers and then signed a pretty good free-agent deal with the Eagles last offseason. He's a guy that can play multiple schemes with the quickness, the power, where he can make a difference versus both the pass and the run.
"He's going to be a guy that creates issues in the run game but also a guy that can win gaps and be disruptive."
Gayle: "Javon Hargrave. That's a comparison I continue to hear, and I tend to agree with. Hargrave has a weird frame, and McNeill does too. They're both big, wide dudes that are still really, really explosive. A lot of that weight is in his lower half.
"Hargrave signed a big-money contract with the Philadelphia Eagles after being one of the more underrated, dominant interior pass rushers for Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, he played a ton on the nose and had a lot of success similar to what McNeill did in college. I think he's going to get consistently compared to a guy like Javon Hargrave as we get closer to April's draft."
Who is one team you could see picking McNeill that would make for a good mutual fit?
Brugler: "One of the appeals with McNeill is that he's not necessarily scheme-specific, where he has to go to an even front or has to play in a three-four. That really opens up the possibilities of a landing spot.
"I don't think that there's necessarily a specific scheme that's going to use him better than others, and that's part of the appeal with him. He can do different things. If you want to play him at three-technique, he can do that. If you want to make him just a more traditional nose tackle, obviously, he can do that as well.
"With NFL teams playing more and more sub package and just being a lot more diverse with their fronts, I think McNeill is exactly what a lot of teams are looking for. Somewhere on day two, he's going to be in that mix where a team is going to look at him and say, 'Okay, he'll give us a little more on our defensive tackle depth chart that we just don't have right now.'"
Gayle: "Some of it is randomness, but I do think he'd work in a defense like the Las Vegas Raiders with a guy like Gus Bradley at defensive coordinator. Gus Bradley over the past five seasons blitzed at the lowest rate of any defensive coordinator in the NFL. You need guys that can win up front. You need big guys that can play some shade on the nose, or even at three-technique.
"If Alim McNeill falls to the Raiders in the middle of the second round, that's a ton of value because right now they're getting mocked to pick Christian Barmore out of Alabama at 17. If they aren't able to land Barmore or they pass on him at 17 and say grab a linebacker or whatever, getting Alim McNeill in the second would be a huge value for them.
"They're a team that has really struggled on the defensive line that has yet to find a stable piece, even after investing in several guys. Yhey have yet to find a guy to really be that impact player. Alim McNeill in the second could be that."