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Purple Prospect Portfolio: Alim McNeill, potential Williams successor

“Godzilla” is a dominant nose tackle who can play on third down

NCAA Football: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Alim McNeill was a top-250 recruit nationally, who chose to stay home in Raleigh, North Carolina, and play for NC State in lieu of offers from upper-echelon programs. McNeill, who went viral for being an all-conference running back at over 250-pounds, immersed himself into the trenches at NC State and never looked back. A three-time All-Conference outfielder for the baseball team, he possesses a unique blend of size, strength, and coordination.

Playing primarily as a 0-tech and shaded nose in NC State’s 3-3-5 defense, McNeill accumulated 10 sacks, and 15 QB hits to go along with 18 tackles for loss during his time with the Wolfpack.

Games watched: UNC, Miami, Liberty, Virginia Tech

Run game: McNeill was built in a lab to destroy centers. He lines up nose to nose and quickly establishes control with precise hand placement, leverage, and shocking power. He is capable of violently shedding at any time. The 317-pound nose tackle regularly drives centers two or more yards into the backfield and redirects runners. His 49% bounce rate (percentage of runs where the ball carrier deviated from the intended gap) is by far tops in the 2021 draft class. Simply put, running up the A-gap is comically futile when McNeill is there. Double teams fail to generate any movement, and blockers melt off of him in their efforts to do so. He has strong recognition for concept and where the ball carrier will be. Possessing average length (32 5/8-inch arms, 79-inch wingspan), his tackle radius isn’t great, nor poor. A linebacker’s dream nose tackle, combo blocks are unable to quickly elevate to find second-level defenders. He allows teammates to clean up while taking sole ownership of the A-gap against zone or power concepts. Once in a while, NFL caliber blockers will be able to move him down a gap with a down block, but that’s the extent of his weaknesses as a run defender.

Pass game: McNeill consistently collapses the pocket. Once he gains drive blockers struggle to anchor. In a 3-3-5 defense, he typically had at least three hands making contact with him. He stands to benefit from utilizing his push-pull more frequently and quicker, which would play off of his hand placement and shedding strength when blockers attempt to anchor. The North Carolina native has about ten yards of quickness with solid foot frequency, so he can flush the pocket, but isn’t going to chase down quarterbacks from behind unless he has quite a few steps on them. McNeill was used to loop inside out a few times, showing foot speed and a bit of flexibility. He’s not stiff, but he’s not bendy. Only batted five passes over three years, with three of them coming in his freshman season. Would like to see him get his hands up quicker. His rushes rarely stall out because he will keep working and working until he gets into the pocket. In an NFL offense with more defenders around the line of scrimmage, he should be able to get more one-on-one opportunities and thrive as a pass-rushing nose tackle. In 2019 before offenses were keying on him, he got one-on-ones, won quickly, and utterly assaulted quarterbacks.

Summary: McNeill was largely avoided in 2020 after breaking out in 2019. Virginia Tech was able to use some spread concepts to get him on the move and cut back, which prevented him from dominating the A-gap. He’s an outstanding two-gap presence at nose tackle, who showed the ability to get skinny and penetrate from single gap looks at times. He always has more to bring around the goal line and in the fourth quarter.

With Brandon Williams on the last year of his contract, the Ravens could do much worse than finding his successor (one who can stay on the field on third down and provide value) in a player who is NFL ready with long-term impact starter potential.

Player comparison: Godzilla

One-liner: McNeill will immediately improve a team’s run defender as a high-impact run defender who doesn’t need to come off the field on third down.

Grade: As high as you want to rate a nose tackle (1-2 round). McNeill has #myguy status.