What they're saying about the Detroit Lions' selection of Alim McNeill
The Detriot Lions selected former NC State defensive lineman Alim McNeill with the 72nd overall pick in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
McNeill, a 6-2, 317-pound nose tackle that elected to go pro after his junior campaign in 2020, earned the highest run-defense grade among FBS defensive tackles according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).
Here is what the various national outlets are saying about McNeill and how they're grading the Lions' pick:
Draft Grade: A-
Day 2: The Detroit Lions are, perhaps predictably, building from the inside out when it comes to the new regime’s first draft. After taking Penei Sewell in the first round, Detroit came back and grabbed an interior defensive lineman in the second and in the third.
The consensus was all over the board in this interior defender class, but McNeill slotted in as PFF’s DT2, behind only Alabama’s Christian Barmore. McNeill is an impressive athlete for a guy who tips the scales at 320 pounds. That allows him to provide more pass-rushing juice than your typical nose tackle. It’s not difficult to see him becoming a difference-maker on a defense that sorely needs those types of players.
The Lions went for another defensive tackle to support second-rounder Levi Onwuzurike. McNeil is a good complaint to Onwuzurike’s quicker, more explosive frame with his stouter nose-like presence against the run.
Analysis: The Lions selected Onwuzurike, a strong penetrator who will be difficult to block at the next level, early in Round 2. Then they picked McNeill, a severely underrated player who will challenge offensive linemen on every play, in the third round. These picks were on top of trading for Michael Brockers from the Rams this offseason. Building on the lines is great, but ignoring other positions of need could cause depth issues during the season. Melifonwu has the length and size to be a solid outside corner, but he has to be more physical to stick in the league long-term.
The Lions put together the most on-brand, build-through-the-trenches type of draft imaginable. This group has big bite-your-kneecaps energy: Sewell is a dominant tackle who plays with a glass-eater mentality; Onwuzurike and McNeill are both brawling interior defensive linemen; Melifonwu has elite size; and Barnes is an athletic and rangy hitter at linebacker. Oh, and St. Brown is a tough, physical slot receiver who bullies defensive backs in the red zone. New head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes laid a solid foundation with their first draft.
Draft Grade: B+
Least-favorite pick: McNeill
We get why they took McNeill, our No. 84 overall player. The d-line needed more reinforcements after some losses at that spot, and he plays a different role than Onwuzurike, so it’s not too much overlap. But a run-stuffing nose tackle in Round 3 over some quality receivers who were on the board — Josh Palmer, Dyami Brown, Nico Collins, etc. — felt like a luxury pick. Even still, the Lions stole St. Brown a round later, which helped atone a bit, and McNeill has the look of a solid pro.
The reason: Guys, what are we doing? Three straight linemen — and two straight defensive tackles? No knock on McNeill, who sounds like an athletic-but-stout and savvy run-stuffer with sack potential. But again, the grade is for the pick, not the player, because the Lions are going way too long in ignoring glaring needs at receiver, linebacker and secondary with just three picks left, barring a trade.
We’ll see where the rest of the draft takes them, but the Lions’ approach to their first three picks is rather clear: Build from the inside out. In a bit of an upset, GM Brad Holmes used his first two selections Friday to double-dip at defensive tackle, taking NC State’s Alim McNeill at No. 72, one round after adding Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike.
Those moves, on top of the Lions’ earlier trade for Los Angeles veteran Michael Brockers, account for a massive remake of what was one of Detroit’s (many) weak spots a year ago.
“Games are won and started in the trenches,” McNeill said, “and I feel like that’s where (the Lions) wanted to go at.”
Fast evaluation: In a vacuum, this is an outstanding Round 3 selection — a value-plus-need match and a player who can help early.
However, it does put a lot more pressure on Holmes to find reinforcements at other spots. He arrived with a reputation for being able to uncover talent in the middle rounds, especially on the defensive side of things. He’ll have to prove that assessment correct as he moves forward this weekend.
With his quick-twitch and explosion, he is typically the first player out of his stance to get that competitive edge while resetting the line to his advantage with his heavy hands and strong punch. He mostly played nose tackle during his time at NC State, and that would probably be where he will best be utilized at either the 0-1 tech depending on the scheme. Being ranked at the top run defender in this draft class and second-best defensive tackle by PFF, he is a force to be reckoned with.
If his quickness fails to reach through the gaps, McNeill usually gets blockaded due to his lack of pass-rushing counter moves. He also can get caught taken by surprise by blocks and has a hard time being double teams to reach into the backfield, which may have caused a decline in production. He is raw with some aspects of his game, but his size has those tangibles you could polish and elevate his game to the next level.