Every defense needs a nose tackle.
It isn’t exciting, and the players who make their living defending the A-gaps seldom get accolades, make highlight reels, or are counted as core players by fans.
But every defense needs a nose tackle, particularly as offenses concentrate more on attacking those A-gaps after using their personnel and formations to spread defenses out. Having a player who can control interior running lanes and keep second level players clean is of underrated importance.
NC State’s Alim McNeill did the dirty work of playing the 0-technique nose tackle in the Wolfpack’s 3-man front. McNeill is good at his job, but how highly will the NFL value a run-stuffing nose tackle?
Prospect: Alim McNeill
Games Watched: vs. Liberty (2020), vs. Miami (2020), vs. North Carolina (2020)
Games Played: 32
Tackles For a loss: 17.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 5
Games Played: 11
Tackles For a loss: 4.5
Forced Fumbles: 1
Passes Defensed: 0
Best: Strength, leverage, run defense
Worst: Agility, athleticism, pass rush
Projection: Rotational nose tackle in a 3-4 front.
North Carolina State nose tackle Alim McNeill is a stocky, powerful player with the strength, leverage, and toughness to hold up in the middle of an NFL defense.
McNeill’s thick, squat frame brings natural leverage to the nose tackle position which he maximizes by settling into a low stance and playing with good initial pad level. McNeil also shows good initial quickness, reacting well to the snap and getting his hands on the opposing center quickly. He generally plays with a good base, as well as fitting his hands inside the center’s framework. McNeill has excellent grip strength and play strength, which he uses to control blockers throughout the play. He also uses his hands well to defeat cutblocks, keeping his feet and staying in the play.
McNeill shows great competitive toughness when in pursuit. Despite being a bigger player, he shows good hustle, pursuing the play through the echo of the whistle.
While McNeill is a stout run defender, he offers little upside as a pass rusher. He relies on a push-pull or rip move (occasionally stringing them together), but can struggle to beat blocks quickly when playing a center who is ready for them. McNeill lacks lateral agility and labors to change directions. Likewise, he lacks quickness outside of his initial move off the stance to engage with the center. He can also find his balance compromised when asked to play laterally.
McNeill can also be prone to biting hard on misdirection, either slowing him down or taking him out of the play completely.
Overall Grade: 5.9 - This prospect has a high floor but is held back by limited athletic potential and limited upside on passing downs
McNeill projects best as a nose tackle used on running downs. He could be a starter in the NFL, but it would likely be in name only, as he would almost certainly be one of the first players taken off the field in a nickel package or passing situation.
McNeill would probably be at his best in a similar position as he played at NC State, as a two-gapping nose tackle in the middle of a TITE front. That would allow him to use his size and strength to clog interior running lanes while also limiting the amount of lateral movement he would need to do. It is worth noting that the TITE front forms the basis for “Air Raid Killer” defenses, which have proliferated throughout the college ranks for their ability to frustrate significant chunks of popular offensive schemes. We could see similar adjustments made at the NFL level as more teams adopt collegiate offensive concepts.
Ultimately, McNeill’s strength, toughness, motor, and run defense will certainly appeal to old-school coaches. However, it remains to be seen how his limited upside in the passing game will impact his draft stock in an NFL which is increasingly predicated on disrupting the quarterback first.