He may not stand out as an obvious breakout candidate for the Lions this year, but second-year defensive tackle Alim McNeill has received some more buzz in that regard.
Without getting into the ugly numbers from last year, the Detroit Lions defense can only be better this year. In each of his two drafts as general manager, Brad Holmes has used two picks within the first three rounds on defensive lineman.
Rookie Aidan Hutchinson will get most of the headlines and carry the heaviest expectations, and internal expectations for 2021 second-rounder Levi Onwuzurike are high. But 2021 third-round pick defensive tackle Alim McNeill showed some promise as a rookie, and his role should grow this year.
McNeill is now getting a bit more breakout buzz.
Alim McNeill shaping up to be a solid, yet sneaky, 2022 breakout candidate for the Lions
Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus has ranked 15 second-year breakout candidates for 2022, from quarterbacks to pass rushers and everything in-between. No.1, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, is obvious, as are a few others on the list (Trey Lance, Elijah Moore).
McNeill, surprisingly, is No. 10.
McNeil was another very young draft pick coming out of NC State and didn’t turn 21 until a couple of weeks after he was drafted. That isn’t a minor detail for the rigors of holding up to double teams in the NFL. Even so, McNeill still held his own for a 60.1 overall grade on 422 snaps as a rookie.
His inclusion comes primarily from what he put on tape in Weeks 17 and 18 last season. McNeill earned two of his three highest single-game grades of the year in those contests (75.8 and 79.5 overall) while playing 65 snaps between the two.
Despite being two years younger and drafted a round later than Levi Onwuzurike, whom Detroit selected at No. 41, McNeill considerably out-graded his defensive tackle counterpart. That means he should be getting every opportunity to break out in 2022 on a much-improved Lions defensive line.
If the Lions are going to be substantially better stopping the run this year, and generate more pass rush from the inside, McNeill will be a key cog as a big, athletic defensive tackle who must be accounted for.