Bradley Chubb, Justin Jones, Kentavius Street, B.J. Hill, and Larrell Murchison. Those five names have one thing in common: They’re all NFL defensive linemen that played their college football at NC State.
The NC State has earned the reputation of being somewhat of a D-line factory over the past several years.
And the list doesn’t stop with the names at the top. This year’s defensive line draft hopeful pouring out of Raleigh is Alim McNeill, a 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive tackle.
A physical, disruptive defender that has his best football in front of him, McNeill recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his multi-sport background, which current NFL defender he’d love to learn from, how playing at NC State prepared him for what’s to come, and what kind of skill set he brings to the next level.
JM: You actually played some baseball in high school, the right field position to be specific. You were good at it. You batted .355 as a senior. How did playing baseball make you a better football player?
AM: I think it worked tremendously in my favor. Hand-eye coordination is a big one. It also kept me in shape (laughs). I was running. It definitely increased my speed. Baseball improved me in so many areas. It definitely made me a better football player. A lot of the same skills apply on the football field. The biggest thing was hand-eye coordination.
JM: How and when did you ultimately decide to pursue a career in football instead of baseball?
AM: It happened during my freshman year. I was working out with the baseball team that spring. My coaches and I decided to sit down and have a serious conversation. We ultimately came to the conclusion that I had a better chance at pursuing a career in football. I could probably reach my full potential in football more so than I could in baseball.
We came to that decision in the spring. I was focused on spring ball at the time. I was getting my body right for the football season. The decision was made at the perfect time.
JM: That makes sense. Here’s a fun one I’m sure you get a lot. You ran for 18 touchdowns as a short-yardage back in high school. Tell us about your time on the offensive side of the ball.
AM: I wouldn’t say that I was a short-yardage back. I had some 40-yard touchdowns as well (laughs). I had a lot of fun playing offense. I took it very seriously. I never really played defense growing up. I didn’t play defense at all until my sophomore year of high school. I was always an offensive guy. I played running back as a kid. That was pretty much it for me. I loved playing offense. Who doesn’t like scoring touchdowns in high school? (laughs). I really enjoyed blocking as well. Offense was a lot of fun for me.
JM: I love that. You eventually made the successful transition to playing on the defense. When I look at NC State over the past few years, they’ve sent so many defensive linemen to the next level. What do you think it is about the program that allows it to churn out so many quality D-linemen on such a consistent basis?
AM: All the credit goes to coach Thunder. That’s what we call strength and conditioning coach Dantonio Burnette. That’s the culture he’s helped build at NC State. Head coach [Dave] Doeren is a terrific coach as well.
It’s not just D-linemen, though. We have NFL players at every position at NC State. The culture within the D-line is very strong. It’s something that we want to keep going.
But when it comes to us developing, it starts with coach Burnette. From our first day in the weight room, that’s when the transformation happens. That’s how we became who we are on the field.
JM: He’s done a terrific job. What do you feel are some strengths and weaknesses in your game right now?
AM: I’m really good with my hands. I’m able to diagnose plays before they happen. I’m quick off the ball. I’m able to read blocks in a short amount of time. I read the backfield set and I often know what play is coming before it happens. I can shoot gaps and cross the face of the guard. I can generate a push and create pressure on the quarterback.
Some of the things I’m still working on, I want to be able to get off blocks a little quicker than I already do. I feel like I do a pretty good job in this area, but if I could make a quicker decision and get off those blocks just a little bit faster, I could make more plays than I do now.
Because I played the zero-technique, I added some weight so I could take on the double and triple teams. Weight might have been a little bit of a weakness for me this past season. It was good weight, don’t get me wrong. There was nothing sloppy on my part.
I’ve already lost all of my weight. I played this season at around 340 pounds. I’m 325 pounds right now. I feel a lot lighter right now. I’m quicker on my feet.
JM: Wow. Your biography on NC State’s webpage had you listed at 320. That’s a big difference.
AM: Yeah, I don’t know why they have me listed at 320 (laughs). I played this past season between 335 and 339. I haven’t weighed 320 pounds since my sophomore season. I think they just never updated the page, to be honest.
JM: What are some of the things you’re doing right now to improve some of those weaknesses that you listed?
AM: I’m taking every day as a business day. I’m working hard every day to correct any issues with my mobility. I’m eating right. I’m coming into work every day with the mentality that I’m getting ready to compete with the best of the best. That’s really what drives me every day. I’m trying to perfect those weaknesses and increase my strengths.
JM: Do you think you’re more of a pass rusher or run stopper at this point in time?
AM: I think I’m equally good in both areas. I’m able to apply pressure on the pocket and create sacks by hitting pass rush moves on both guards and centers. I can take on double or triple teams and defend the run. I can disengage from single blocks and diagnose if the guard is trying to execute a pull block. I pay close attention to tendencies just by watching their eyes, hands, and feet.
To circle back to your question, I feel like I’m equally good in both areas.
JM: What are some of your go-to moves as a pass rusher?
AM: I like hitting power moves. It’s kind of hard to hit finesse moves from the zero-technique position and that’s where I played most of my snaps. You can sometimes hit a finesse move from there if you catch the center leaning, but other than that it’s difficult.
If I had to play a game tomorrow, I would hit power moves for a solid five snaps. Then I would start coming in with some pull-snatches and long-arm moves. I could hit some finesse moves with my feet or hit them with a little jab. It’s like a crossover move in basketball. I use the stab-club as well. I like a good dip-and-rip. I can spin back inside.
I use a lot of different moves. It really just depends on who I’m playing against and what my film study throughout the week revealed.
JM: That’s terrific. If you could pick the brain of any NFL defender, who would it be and why?
AM: Fletcher Cox. I love watching him play the game. His film is outstanding. I really try to model my game after his game. Aaron Donald is another one. He’s a different player than I am. Our styles are very different. He’s more finesse. Don’t get me wrong, he’s great in the run game. He’s incredibly strong. He just plays with more finesse than I do.
Cox is who I like the most. I love the way he gets his hands on people and just throws them to the side. He destroys blocks. I love watching him rush the passer.
JM: That’s a great choice. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Alim. I’m incredibly impressed with you as a prospect and as a person. In closing, what kind of impact is Alim McNeill going to make at the next level?
AM: I’m going to establish myself to a point that allows me to compete with the best of the best. This is what I’ve been working toward my entire life. I feel like it’s my time now. I’m excited to showcase my skills throughout this process. I’m ready to make the jump to the next level. It’s my time to become a professional athlete. I couldn’t be more excited. I’m going to establish myself in the NFL.
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