2021 NFL draft prospects: North Carolina State DT Alim McNeill

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Eric Edholm
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Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

North Carolina State DT Alim McNeill

6-foot-2, 320 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.77 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Run-stuffing nose tackle who surprises with his natural athleticism and flexibility

Games watched: Wake Forest (2020), Virginia (2020), Miami (2020), Florida State (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (No. 249 nationally) in 2018, McNeill converted from middle linebacker and short-yardage runner to the defensive line. He put on weight steadily throughout his career, starting once and playing extensively as a freshman when he had 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. In 2019, McNeill started the final eight games at nose tackle and collected 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 12 total games. As a junior in 2020, he was named second-team AP All-American and first-team All-ACC, totaling 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one interception in 11 games (10 starts). McNeill opted out of the Wolfpack’s bowl game and declared early for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Natural athlete with nice mix of flexibility and power — broad-framed yet light on his feet. Big, thick, well-proportioned frame to withstand a beating. Power in lower body to match. Impressive upper-body strength as well.

Prep linebacker and short-yardage back who moves well for a man his size and is extremely quick off the ball. Reportedly has vertical-jumped 32 inches, could run a sub-5.0 40-yard dash and has benched 445 pounds and squatted 640, according to The Athletic.

RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 06:  Alim McNeill #29 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack reacts after making as tackle for a loss against the Boston College Eagles during their game at Carter-Finley Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
North Carolina State NT Alim McNeill showed steady improvement over his career and has surprising athleticism. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Uses snap quickness and explosion to tax burly guards and undersized centers. Caves in offensive lines and wrecks blocking schemes. Drew double teams and came up with better solutions to defeat them last season.

Found ways into the backfield despite almost exclusively lined up as a nose or shade. Good body control — doesn’t end up on the ground a lot. Disruptive even when he’s not making a play on the ball. Good two-gap ability to keep linebackers clean.

Excellent run defender. Struggled to finish some plays earlier in his career but cleaned a lot of that up this past season. Displayed fascinating rush skill earlier in his career when allowed to stunt, man only a single gap or line up in different spots.

Good motor. Rarely gets completely stymied and will power through block attempts. Could be tried as short-yardage fullback in jumbo goal-line sets — backfield experience in high school.

Downside: Squatty frame with less-than-ideal length. Best working over the center. Could be a one-position player in the NFL — might lack desired length to handle extensive duty as a 3-4 end. Appears to have short arms for his position. Contains gaps but still isn’t a big playmaker.

Pass-rush plan typically is to batter the opponent — no obvious go-to moves in his tool bag yet. Could use a pass-rush coach to teach him better hand use and leverage tricks. Pad level needs to be lower more consistently.

Most effective when snaps managed — had some of his better games when snap counts were kept around 40 per game. Might require a rotational role for maximum effectiveness.

Best-suited destination: McNeill should make his impact felt on run downs and won’t embarrass himself in passing situations but might never be a true interior pass rusher. He likely profiles as a nose or shaded nose for a two-gap team but is quick enough to handle some one-gap assignments and even kick out as a 4i-technique if needed.

Did you know: McNeill was a talented prep baseball player, too — and he wanted to play both sports for the Wolfpack. It didn’t work out, but McNeill was a right fielder who batted .355 as a senior and was a three-time all-conference pick.

“I’ve been playing baseball longer than football,” he told The News & Observer after committing to N.C. State. “My dad put me in [the sport] when I was 5 or 6 and I’ve just been playing ever since at a high level of competition.

“At 9 years old we were going to Georgia for the weekend playing in the World Series and stuff. ... I don’t want to give up either one. I just want to play both as long as I can. It would be a very hard choice [if I had to choose between the two], but if I had to make a choice, baseball would be my choice.”

Player comp: 2017 second-rounder Dalvin Tomlinson

Expected draft range: Round 2 or 3