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5 questions with Inside Pack Sports: Lions could have future All-Pro in Alim McNeill

Get to know the Lions’ new defensive tackle.

Boston College v North Carolina State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

After the Detroit Lions scored a great defensive tackle in the second round, they decided to go back to the well and grab another defensive tackle. This time they got a surprisingly athletic nose tackle who former NFL cornerback Aqib Talib says has some of the same traits that Aaron Donald has.

While that’s both hard and temping (that’s what she said) to believe, I urge Lions fans to slow their role on jumping into that pool just yet. Judging by Alim McNeill’s tape, it’s pretty clear he can do a lot for a guy who’s 320 pounds. Maybe it’s because he’s a multi-sport guy (baseball) and played multiple positions in football, including running back. Check the tape.

So we know he can hit dingers, play outfield, running back and defensive tackle. But we still don’t know a ton about McNeil. So we reached out N.C. State beat writer Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports for more information. Here’s what he had to say:

1. What are your thoughts on McNeil’s time at N.C. State?

“McNeill stood out at N.C. State. After the departure of the four defensive linemen (Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones, and Kentavius Street) to the NFL Draft in 2018, the Wolfpack was devoid of talent and depth on the front. McNeill stepped in and bridged the gap.

“What is most interesting about McNeill’s time at N.C. State is the coaching staff ultimately decided to jettison the even front they had employed to great effect in favor of an odd (three-man) front in 2019. This accentuated his importance, as he was now the only defensive tackle used in the starting 11, and likely led to his stock rising in NFL circles due to the necessity of taking on two offensive linemen (at least) on every play.

“He typically bullied his way through his adversaries in a two-technique, and the Wolfpack returned to their winning ways in 2020 by finishing with eight victories and a bowl appearance.

“Simply put, Alim McNeill will go down as the most important player of the 2020 N.C. State Wolfpack, one of the better defensive linemen in school history and will probably have his jersey number honored by the program at some point in the near future.”

2. What are his strengths?

“The athleticism McNeill has for his size is astounding. He is not a lumbering lineman but a durable athlete who will make things happen despite playing a position that is primarily designed to help the edge players put up numbers.

“There will be many stories about McNeill playing baseball in high school and briefly flirting with it in college, along with his exploits at running back and linebacker in high school. There will the highlight of him returning an interception for a touchdown while at N.C. State. Detroit supporters will likely hear and see many McNeill tidbits in the coming weeks and months.

“In fact, McNeill would not be a bad player to consider using offensively in heavy sets. In an I-formation on the goal line, he would not have many problems clearing a path.”

3. What are his weaknesses?

“It is not necessarily a weakness, but McNeill will have to get stronger. There is a reason the linemen in the NFL have a job, and they do not usually get there by allowing one player to take up two blockers. He will have to upgrade constantly. At this point, he might be a better one-technique tackle as opposed to a three-technique, but that will not be for long. Eventually, McNeill will be top-tier in both run stoppage and pass blitzing.”

4. Aqib Talib compared some of McNeil’s traits to Aaron Donald. Is that crazy?

“It is not crazy, but Detroit’s front office, and Lions fans, will have to be pragmatic. McNeill is not likely to step in and immediately dominate. That said, he can be one of those elite players inside that cause havoc in both phases.

“As the game progresses over the years, players get bigger and stronger. Guys like Donald are smaller but use that athleticism to compensate. McNeill has the typical defensive tackle size but is atypical regarding what he can do physically. That is where the linking to Donald comes in. What you see from the Los Angeles Rams stud and more recent draftees like Ed Oliver of the Buffalo Bills is a leaner version of the interior lineman to gain some speed and lateral movement without having slippage in strength. McNeill can provide that and would be doing so despite weighing 30 more pounds.”

5. Can McNeil have an immediate impact in the NFL?

“Alim McNeill can have an immediate impact, but he likely will hit his true stride somewhere between year two and three. A good way to gauge his impact will be to see what type of numbers the Detroit edge players put up. If the Lions have quality defensive ends, utilizing them beside McNeill should show it.

If he stays healthy, has competent talent around him, and is coached to his strengths, the Lions have a future All-Pro in Alim McNeill. His work rate and demeanor will resonate with both the city and fan base. He will make Detroit a better team.”