The New Orleans Saints had one of the NFL's best defenses in 2020. One reason for this was a deep and talented group of defensive linemen. Especially at defensive tackle, where David Onyemata, Sheldon Rankins, Malcom Brown, Shy Tuttle, and Malcolm Roach maintained a fresh and disruptive interior rotation.
Brown was traded to Jacksonville this offseason in a salary cap move, while Rankins signed with the Jets as a free agent. Onyemata is an emerging star, and former UDFAs Tuttle and Roach have shown flashes of productivity.
The Saints still have talent along their defensive interior, but could add more and bolster their depth through the draft. One player that may be on their radar is this All-ACC performer and the subject of today's draft profile.
ALIM MCNEILL, DEFENSIVE TACKLE (N.C. STATE)
NFL.com Comparison (Lance Zierlein): Khalen Saunders (Chiefs)
McNeill was a star running back and linebacker at nearly 270 pounds for Sanderson High School in North Carolina. His college choice, North Carolina State in Raleigh, was less than 30 minutes from home. McNeill added weight and was moved to the defensive line, but still contributed as a freshman. He’d start just one game, but appeared in every contest and tallied 3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and batted down three passes.
McNeill entrenched himself as a starter during his sophomore year of 2019. He recorded 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 12 games. McNeill's progression continued in 2020, as he gathered 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and an interception. His production earned him 1st team All-ACC honors and 2nd team All-American accolades.
Critics will point to McNeill's short arms, making difficult for him to keep blockers off his body. Despite his build, he must play with more consistent leverage at the next level. McNeill, 6-2 and 320 lbs., doesn't have a wide array of pass rushing moves, and will often get stalemated if his initial charge is stalled.
McNeill's college production would have undoubtedly been even higher had he not played the bulk of his snaps at nose tackle. He has the upper body strength and athleticism to be effective from both the one-technique and three-technique. McNeill can disengage from blocks quickly and shows excellent pursuit along the tackle box.
His strength allows him to be most effective as a bull rusher, but McNeill has an explosive first step at the snap and knifes through double-team blocking well. McNeill has constant upper body movement against blockers and an excellent burst into opposing backfields. He maintains a strong base against the run and is difficult to move off point.
Alim McNeill doesn't have the length to play along the edge, but his ability as a run defender and pass rush potential gives him some interior versatility. He is inexperienced in the trenches, but his strength, athletic ability, and production despite that inexperience give him a high upside. McNeill's natural disruptive ability should make him an immediate contributor in any situation, with the potential of quickly earning a starting role.