Is the pairing of North Carolina State defensive tackle Alim McNeill and the New York Giants a match destined to happen in the 2021 NFL Draft? Let’s look at why that could be the case as we learn about McNeill, this week’s Prospect of the Week.
The Giants have a history of selecting defensive tackles in the early rounds of the draft:
- William Joseph (2003, Round 1); Barry Cofield (2006, Round 4); Jay Alford (2007, Round 3); Linval Joseph (2010, Round 2); Marvin Austin (2011, Round 2); Johnathan Hankins (2013, Round 2); Jay Bromley (2014, Round 3); Dalvin Tomlinson (2017, Round 2); Dexter Lawrence (2019, Round 1).
The Giants also have a history of swapping out those defensive tackles, drafting a new one rather re-signing an older one to a second contract.
This offseason, the Giants are faced with the strong possibility they are going to lose Tomlinson, their run-stuffing nose tackle, to free agency.
Which brings us back to McNeill, Giants history and his Giants connections.
McNeill is a powerful 6-foot-2, 320-pound fireplug on an interior defensive lineman who spent the last two seasons playing 0-tech nose tackle for N.C. State. So, McNeill plays Tomlinson’s position, is similar as a run-first defender, and most analysts think he’s probably sitting in that Day 2 sweet spot where the Giants have historically liked to find interior defensive linemen.
Oh, and there’s more.
McNeill replaced Hill in N.C. State’s lineup after the Giants made Hill a third-round pick in the 2018 draft. They are friendly, with McNeill calling Hill “a really cool dude.” He is also friendly with Lawrence, having gotten to know him while playing high school football with Lawrence’s brother, as well as against Dexter.
On the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, McNeill admitted he has envisioned lining up with Hill and Lawrence.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I think that would be a ton of fun. I really do,” McNeill said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about that. I just feel like we could be destructive together.”
What the scouts say
In it’s draft guide, Pro Football Focus pegs McNeill as a Round 2 value:
Every defense known to mankind can use a run-stuffing nose tackle who can also consistently collapse pockets. With McNeil’s explosiveness at 320 pounds, he could very well be that guy sooner rather than later. Even with little more than a first step in his repertoire, McNeil earned a 92.1 run defense grade and a 77.5 pass-rushing grade this season. He showed marked improvement holding up to double teams compared to 2019. In a weak defensive tackle class, McNeil could pay big dividends.
Draft Network says:
McNeill is a powerful interior defender that is capable of controlling and resetting the line of scrimmage with his heavy hands and functional strength. While he wasn’t often asked to shoot gaps, he also has positive flashes of gap-penetration skills during his time at NC State. There is room for McNeill to grow as a pass rusher, but as it stands, his variety of rush moves and rush plan is underdeveloped. For a team in need of a short-yardage and early-down run stuffer that has a ceiling to develop into a more effective pass rusher, McNeill is a terrific mid-round option.
Football Gameplan says:
Does an outstanding job taking on and handling double teams. Whoever the two lineman are that he’s engaged with, will not make it to the backers.
A rock on the interior who uses his hands very well. He’s consistently playing a technically sound game up front.
Has a push-pull-rip that’s very effective, as well as a club over
Areas of Improvement:
Doesn’t have much to bring to the table from a pass rushing perspective, as he’s neither quick or sudden. But, that’s not his game, and that’s not what you’re bringing him in for.
It’ll be interesting to see how versatile he is up front, and whether or not he can consistent hold his own outside of the NT spot.
What McNeill says
McNeill reads some of the reports, but claims not to care what they say.
“I just read it — if it’s good OK, if it’s bad OK,” he said.
“There are some things as far as pass rush and stuff, some people don’t see the ability in the pass rush that I have. But when I’m reading or listening to that stuff it just makes me work harder. Whether it’s good news or bad news, I don’t really think much of it. I’m kinda glad my name’s getting mentioned in the first place. I don’t really care what’s being said about it.”
McNeill received a Combine invite, but won’t get to showcase his athleticism with that annual draft event cancelled. He will work out for scouts at the N.C. State Pro Day on March 30.
“I want to be able to show them everything,” McNeill said. “My athletic ability, how I’m able to use it. How disciplined I was throughout this process of getting my body and my weight right and how much stronger and quicker I look, and how much faster I look. I really want to show everything.”
One thing scouts will notice at the Pro Day is a svelte McNeill. He’s listed at 320 pounds and says he is now 319 pounds, but admits having played last season while weighing between 335 and 339 pounds. He said he played at that heavier weight to have more girth to handle the double teams he saw as a nose tackle.
McNeill was a high school linebacker and running back, scoring 40 touchdowns while weighing around 270 pounds. I asked him if he would rather score touchdowns, or get into goal line scrums trying to prevent them.
“A hundred percent on the goal line. Not even close,” McNeill said. “Scoring touchdowns is fun. I had like 40 career touchdowns in high school, but none of those equate to being at that goal line. It’s just mano-a-mano, you and the o-line. We had a ton of goal line stops, and I really loved every moment. Definitely the scrums and the goal line is a lot more fun than scoring touchdowns.”
Watch McNeill’s film and one thing you notice is centers often being driven backwards by McNeill’s power, leverage and striking ability.
“It [knocking linemen back] feels great because that’s the work that I put in. The countless hours in the weight room and working on that strike and creating the knock back on the o-line. I work on that every day at practice, and I work at that on my own. So, it’s a great feeling,” McNeill said.
“I’m trying to destroy people every play.”
McNeill is also a budding musician who already has an EP out that you can preview here. One of the cuts on that EP is called “Different Breed,” and it’s a song McNeill wrote because it is how he feels about himself.
“There’s obviously no disrespect to any other athlete out there working. There’s a lot of guys that work really hard. I feel like I work two times as hard as anybody else out there. And things I’m able to do on the field I feel like I’m a lot different than a lot of athletes out there. I just feel like I’m a different guy, a different beast on the field,” McNeill said.
“You’ve gotta have like a killer mindset when you play. You can’t really be laid back on the field. You’ve really gotta put your hands on somebody and you can legally do it on the field. That’s all I needed to hear, that I can put my hands on somebody and legally do it … I’m just trying to destroy people on the field, that’s just my mindset.”
Could McNeill bring that mindset to the Giants? We will know in a few weeks.