Drafting a nose guard in the third round isn’t something fans typically get behind—especially after also drafting a defensive tackle in the second round—but Detroit Lions rookie Alim McNeill is no ordinary nose guard; he has been better than advertised in training camp.
If you’ve been following along with POD’s training camp observations articles, you’ve surely noticed McNeill’s name come up a bunch, but when the pads came on for Day 6, McNeill was able to elevate his game even more.
“He’s better than I thought when we drafted him, to be honest,” Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash said of McNeill. “I think we would all say that. We knew he was a heck of a run defender. He’s stout at the point but he’s a lot better athlete than he showed on tape, which for us was unbelievable. He’s not just an A-gap to A-gap player, so if he can continue to get better—we got to keep a thumb on him—I think he can be an exceptional nose guard in this league in time.”
A projected starter at the nose from the moment he was drafted, McNeill’s ability to two-gap and penetrate gives him a rare base of skills, but how quickly he has been able to develop those traits has also impressed.
“His athletic ability,” Wash continued. “His ability to stay square, play lateral to the line of scrimmage. You know, bigger guys, sometimes these zone schemes give them issues. But Alim, that’s not an issue. He’s got great lateral movement.”
His lateral movement is special and it has been a big factor in his ability to hang with All-Pro center Frank Ragnow in practices. One-on-one battles between the pair have been must-watch entertainment, and McNeill has used the opportunity to pick Ragnow’s brain on how to improve his game even further.
“It’s definitely an experience,” McNeill said of facing off against Ragnow. “I’ve never really went against a center as coveted as Frank is, and he’s really a technician. He’s going to sit there, he’s going to anchor. I feel like I got a couple good reps on him, and he got some good reps on me. But I’m just learning from him by asking questions. I hope he doesn’t think I’m annoying, because I kind of pester him with questions about different stuff, just trying to get better. But it’s definitely an experience to go against Frank. I’m definitely going to get better going against him.”
McNeill is only just scratching the surface of his developmental ceiling and coaches have already begun increasing their expectations of him, but he has set his standards high as well.
“Everybody here has high expectations,” McNeill continued. “I hold myself to a standard—a really, really high standard. I expect nothing less than greatness.”
He’s on his way.