The Green Bay Packers have begun doing their due diligence on some of the top run-stopping defensive linemen in the 2021 NFL draft.
According to Justin Melo of The Draft Network, the Packers were among the teams that recently held a virtual meeting with North Carolina State defensive tackle Alim McNeill, an intriguing early-round prospect with a physical presence similar to Kenny Clark.
McNeill recorded 77 tackles, 10 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss over 32 games for the Wolfpack and displayed head-turning athleticism for his beefy 6-foot-2, 325-pound frame. He was also consistent as a run defender who proved reliable in short-yardage situations and disrupted plays all over, earning a 92.1 run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus in 2020.
While McNeill projects best as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense — like the one the Packers will continue to run under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry — there could be some interesting potential to explore with him either behind or alongside Clark in Green Bay’s system. At the very least, he would add an impressive talent to a thin position group that is looking to improve during the 2021 offseason.
Melo also reported the Packers have spoken with Notre Dame edge rusher Daelin Hayes, an initial Day 3 prospect whose stock has been on the rise ever since his impressive week at the Senior Bowl. Listed as 6-foot-3 and 261 pounds, Hayes has the pass-rushing skills to play at either defensive end or outside linebacker.
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McNeill Made 2020 Freaks List
McNeill is currently ranked 11th on The Draft Network’s list of top interior defensive linemen in the 2021 class, losing some credit for not being fully developed as a pass rusher but still projecting to be off the board before the end of the third round.
Some of that comes from the NFL’s trend of drafting defensive tackles early and often. As TDR noted, there have been 67 first-rounders taken in the past 20 drafts with 11 of them coming in the last three years. He also comes from a prestigious NC State program that has seen seven defensive linemen drafted since 2013.
Though, McNeill is considered a riser in his own right as someone who was a consistent three-year starter for the Wolfpack and last fall checked in at No. 32 on Bruce Feldman’s 2020 college football Freaks List for his “explosive strength.”
Here’s what Feldman wrote about McNeill prior to last year:
Thanks to some smart evaluations and the efforts of Wolfpack strength coach Dantonio Burnette, aka Coach Thunder, State has produced a bunch of Freak D-linemen of late. Meet the next one, a powerhouse 326-pound former four-star recruit who had 28 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks last year. McNeill, despite his massive size, vertical jumped 32 inches. Don’t be surprised if the junior runs in the 4.9s by the time he’s ready for the NFL combine. He also benches 445 pounds and squats 640.
Packers Have Mobility Options for 2021 Draft
The Packers are currently projected to have 10 selections in the 2021 draft with three compensatory picks likely on the way for losing Bryan Bulaga, Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell during last year’s free agency. And given general manager Brian Gutekunst’s penchant for trading around, it would make sense if one or a couple of picks were mobilized to help the Packers move up or down for a preferred player.
Will McNeill end up becoming one of those players? Impossible to say, but it is worth noting the Packers and the other 31 NFL teams are assessing players a little differently in 2021. A huge pre-draft component, the NFL Scouting Combine, has been canceled for the year due to COVID-19 concerns, leaving campus workouts as the lone offseason opportunity for prospects to showcase their abilities as NFL-ready.
In other words, the Packers may already have a good sense of what type of player McNeill can give them from their virtual meeting and his college tape. He has room to grow as a pass rusher, but they have a defensive line coach (Jerry Montgomery) who has helped mold Clark into an elite player and seems capable of tapping into his potential.