Detroit Lions: Alim McNeill will be the linchpin of the defense

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

I don’t want to get over-excited or anything, but I was overjoyed when the Detroit Lions selected nose tackle, Alim McNeill, out of N.C. State with the 72nd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Detroit Lions are coming off of two atrocious seasons on the defensive side of the football, and general manager (GM) Brad Holmes has certainly made retooling the defense a priority since taking office.

When you are trying to build a successful football team, everything starts in the trenches, and that goes for both sides of the football.  The Lions are coming off of a season where they allowed a franchise-worst 6,716 total yards and 519 points.

The Lions were also gouged on the ground allowing a whopping 135 rushing yards per game, which ranked 28th in the league.  That was 20 yards per game worse than in 2019 where Detroit ranked 21st.

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Holmes clearly identified the issue and immediately traded for a familiar face in veteran Michael Brockers, plus used a pair of premium draft choices on two interior linemen.  Again, I can’t stress this enough, to get positive results, both the offensive and defensive lines need to be shored up.

The Detroit Lions selected the top offensive lineman in the draft with the no. 7 pick.  Penei Sewell will anchor the right side of an offensive line that had already been ranked 13th best in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).

Alim McNeill is getting all the first-team reps for the Detroit Lions in training camp.

Before drafting McNeill, the Detroit Lions selected defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike in the second round of the NFL Draft with the 41st pick.  Onwuzurike creates plenty of penetration inside and provides the defense with some juice at the position with his speed and burst.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, McNeill has been tangling with Frank Ragnow, Detroit’s Pro Bowl center, and giving him all he can handle during practice.

Here is what McNeill had to say about squaring off with Detroit’s sensational center;

"“I’ve never really went against a center as coveted as Frank is,” McNeill said. “He’s 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. I’m just learning from him, I ask him questions and stuff. I hope he doesn’t think I’m annoying cause I kind of like pester him with questions asking him different stuff, just trying to get better.”"

McNeill is expected to be a stout defender against the run.  He’s 6-foot-2 and 330-pounds but has displayed elite athleticism and awesome ball skills for a nose tackle throughout his college career, as seen here with his pick-six against Virginia.

Not only was McNeill on my pre-draft wishlist, but he’s also quickly becoming one of my favorite players on this Lions team during training camp.

In three seasons at N.C. State McNeill totaled 77 solo tackles and ten sacks plus that pick-six you enjoyed above.

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I believe the 21-year old McNeill has the makings of being a dominant NFL interior lineman in the future, and I am excited to watch him grow under this new regime the Lions have in place.  Don’t sleep on rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes either.  Barnes may work himself into a starting role by week one or shortly after.