Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill won't stay a secret very much longer

Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill had a breakthrough campaign this season, and another big step could easily be in store next year.

Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
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With eyes on a breakout in his third NFL season, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill changed his offseason routine, worked to widen his array of pass rush moves and lost a lot of weight.

To be exact, McNeill told reporters at the beginning of training camp he had lost 22 pounds in the offseason. That being said, he added that he intended to play at his previous 325 pounds. But with less body fat, he would be more flexible and have better stamina down-to-down and game-to-game.

That offseason work paid off. McNeill had five sacks, more than doubling his career total, along with 34 quarterback pressures according to Pro Football Focus. Oh, and he missed four games with a knee injury. His absence during that time was noticeable, since he was the only other consistent pass rusher on the Lions' defensive front outside of Aidan Hutchinson.

Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill will not be a 'secret' for much longer

Pro Football Focus has named one most improved player and one "secret superstar" from each team for this season. McNeill was the the Lions' player who made the cut for both lists. His overall PFF grade was nearly 20 points better this year (88.5) compared to 2022 (69.8).

"The former third-round more than doubled his career sack total in 2023. After recording three sacks over his first two seasons, McNeill sacked opposing quarterbacks five times this season. He also recorded a career-high 34 quarterback pressures."

On the "secret superstar" front, here's what PFF wrote.

"Despite playing in just 13 games, McNeill still managed to notch 34 pressures and a career-high five sacks while surging up the middle of the Lions defensive line. He’ll return next season to carry on being a quiet superstar."

McNeill will turn 24 in May. It's fair to say he's got room to improve still, aside from ideally being healthy for all 17 games next season. Matt Broder of Woodward Sports sees the potential for another big step.

McNeill may have toiled in obscurity this season, even as the Lions were making their run to a division title followed by two playoff wins. But he won't be a secret league-wide much longer, if he even still is.

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