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NFL Draft grades: Breaking down the Detroit Lions’ selection of DT Alim McNeill

Another DT? Hell yeah.

NCAA Football: Florida State at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are not messing around with their big fellas. After taking defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike with their second-round pick, they went ahead and double-dipped at interior defenders by selecting NC State’s Alim McNeill in the third round. While the two are both technically classified as interior defenders, the players are very, very different from each other. Just look at the body size:

Onwuzurike: 6-foot-3, 290 pounds
McNeill: 6-foot-2, 317 pounds

Let’s dive a little deeper into the latter pick with my third-round grade.


Another three-year player at the college level, McNeill was a force in his rookie season, earning Freshman All-American honors following a 3.5-sack season from the nose with three passes defended to boot—as a rotational player, no less. He essentially became a starter in 2019 and upped his sack numbers to 5.5.

And while he managed just a single sack in 2020, he was far, far more productive than his box score statistics suggest:

While Neil projects to be a nose tackle to Onwuzurike’s 3-tech, he is also bringing some pass rushing skills that the Lions have been lacking from 0-tech. John Penisini is a fine two-gapping run defender, but McNeill brings speed, athleticism, and a dangerous first step that could push the pocket back and give interior offensive linemen hell.

Talent grade: B+


Here’s where experts had Alim McNeill projected to go:

Dane Brugler: 82nd
PFF: 2nd-round grade
Daniel Jeremiah: 71st
Lance Zierlein: 111th

The Lions got him at pick 72, so the value appears to be there. Again, we’re talking about a thin defensive tackle market, so the fact that the Lions got two of the top four interior defenders in this class around the pick where they should have been taken shows that they didn’t take a hurries approach.

Value grade: B+


The Lions had a nose tackle in John Penisini already on the roster, so this wasn’t a huge need. But Penisini was drafted by a different regime to play in a different scheme. Penisini just doesn’t have the athleticism that McNeill does and won’t penetrate as a pass rusher like McNeill can. A look at McNeill’s RAS really highlights how explosive he can be for a nose tackle.

Was nose the team’s most pressing need for 2021? Absolutely not. But if the Lions have made anything clear on Friday night, it’s that this team is drafting the best player available that fits a long-term need.

Need grade: C+


Unlike Ownuruwike, I think McNeill has a chance to start right away and hit the ground running. The Lions need guys who can really disrupt the middle of the line and now they’ve got two—and both get to learn behind Michael Brockers. If you were hoping the Lions were going to draft to improve their 2021 team as much as possible, you won’t like this pick. But if you’re looking at the long-term picture, I think this pick makes a lot of sense.

Overall grade: B


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