ESM EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: NC State DL prospect Alim McNeill speaks ahead of NFL Draft

As the NFL offseason heats up we inch closer to free agency and closer to the exciting NFL Draft. This year’s defensive line draft class might not be the strongest, but that’s not to say there are no talented, hidden gems lying in 2021’s class. One defensive line prospect that has been shooting up draft boards recently is NC State’s Alim McNeill.

Alim McNeill is a huge, 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive lineman with shockingly impressive athleticism. Empire Sports Media was fortunate enough to speak with Alim McNeill on our podcast, Fireside Giants, hosted by myself, Anthony Rivardo, and my co-host, Alex Wilson. The link to watch the interview can be found here.

Q: Tell us about your music. I got some insight into what you’re producing. It sounds super professional. You told us before the podcast that you have your software and you’re mixing in yourself, doing it on your own. You’re finding time to become an elite football player and learning how to be a musician, which is amazing to do two things like that at a high level. So just give us some insight into how you’re doing that; the process, and how you’re finding time to do both.

Yeah, so, fist and foremost, football is obviously first, that’s the main priority. Music, that’s something I do whenever I have time to do it. And it’s just like, instead of playing video games, I play video games but not as much, I find myself doing music more than anything now. So I use that kind of as an escape, I guess you could say. It’s just like a fun hobby I picked up on at a young age. My dad was a DJ when he was around my age. Then he had us and he would make beats and stuff around the house. I used to just watch him do it. He had an old software back then, it was called Reason and I don’t think they use that no more. But that’s where I picked that up from and ever since then I just went with it. I started making songs around my freshman year and they weren’t very good, they weren’t produced very good. And then as time went it sounded more professional and that’s when I started uploading my music to Apple Music, Spotify, SoundCloud and what not. But, yeah, it’s just something that I do when I have time to do it and when I’m feeling an idea or I’m feeling creative. I’ll just go jot down lyrics or whatever I’m feeling at the time I’ll jot down. So it kinda takes a couple days maybe a week or two to write a song depending on what type of mood or what type of song I want it to be. But yeah, it’s just something I do whenever I have time. It’s a really fun hobby though.

Q: Do you see that as a long-term thing? Like after football do you want to be in music and kind of building stuff down the road?

Yeah, after football is done with I see myself doing something with music, whether that’s opening a studio or producing or something like that. But as of right now it’s just like a fun hobby. Football is the priority right now, I’m just so locked in with that. I dropped my EP and I haven’t made a song since because I’ve just been locked in. But yeah, I see myself doing something with music.

Q: Music plays such a big part in a lot of people’s lives. How do you use music to fuel yourself in football?

Yeah, because it’s my song, I lsiten to my music before games, as well as other songs too and what not, but I listen to my music because my message is in the song so I’m really just re-listening to what I’m trying to do. My music is more like telling stories. And a lot of my songs are talking about what I’m going to do in my life, how I’m going to do that, why I’m in the position I am now. And it just gives me reminders and before the game gets me hyped up and ready to go and just amped up really. Music plays a big part of my life, it gets my day going. When I hope in the car the first thing I do is turn on some music. That determines my day. So that’s why I really started making songs with meaningful messages and what not. Songs that were hype and stuff like that because I wanted to have songs for different moods. It plays a big role in my life, definitely.

Q: What do you think is your biggest driving force when it comes to football and what makes you want to be great at the NFL level? What is that motivation or that chip on your shoulder?

Really myself. My motivation is me, as crazy as that sounds. Because I know what I want and I know how I want to live and how I want to be seen and perceived. And that’s up to me. I wake up every morning knowing that if I want to go get this or if I want to have this, I have to go do it. So it’s really me, I’m my motivation. So I know I have to get up. I’m grateful to be alive when I get up. I get to go workout today and stuff like that so my motivation is me.

Q: You played at about 340 pounds I believe at NC State?

Yeah, for my last season.

Q: Right, so are you expecting to continue playing at 340 or what is your designated playing weight when you get to the league?

So I’m 319 right now. But I was 340 or 339, that range, because I was solely playing the 0. I wasn’t doing much moving around. I was having to hold gaps, hold the A-Gap with doubles and triple teams. And so that’s why I added a little bit of weight to myself during the offseason. I’ve never had sloppy weight, none of it was sloppy, it was all muscle-bound. My goal playing weight is probably what I’m at now, probably like 319 or 320. Really no higher than 325, just cause the league is a little bit different, I’ll be doing a lot more moving than in college because I won’t be solely in the 0.

Q: You mentioned 0-tech, what alignment do you project you will play in the NFL? Where do you want to play? Where on the defensive line are you the most comfortable?

I’m comfortable in all the positions on the D-Line, whether it’s the 0, 1, 2i, 3, 4i, whatever it is, I’m really comfortable playing either one. I project myself playing in shade or in the 3-tech, just because of my athleticism, being able to get off the ball, move, pass-rush, and play the run and hold gaps. I see myself as either a 1 or a 3-tech.

Q: So let’s talk about that athleticism. I’ve seen a video of you hitting 18 miles per hour on a treadmill which was just insane. I know that you have a history of playing running back in high school and even linebacker, so how does that play into your defensive tackle position in college?

Yeah, 100%, because of my ability to use my feet. I’ve always worked on my feet my whole life. And I’ve had pretty quick feet throughout my tenure of playing football so it helps me tremendously. When I’m getting off the ball and I’m about to hit a pass-rush move, it’s almost like playing receiver. That’s kind of how I see it with the way you use your feet. Like Aaron Donald for example, he gets off the ball and he’s shake and bake, he’s hitting moves. That’s just like what a receiver does to get by his DB. So I say the use of me playing linebacker and running back has helped my feet tremendously and has translated over to playing D-Line.

Q: You just mentioned Aaron Donald. Is that a player that you like to model your game after or are there other players that you draw inspiration from?

Yeah I like to model my game after Fletcher Cox. That’s really who I like watching, I try to do everything he does and actually Dexter [Lawrence] too and BJ [Hill]. I watch a lot of their film, a ton of their film. But Aaron Donald, I watch him a lot for finesse moves. He’s great in the run, of course, but I like watching his finesse moves. But Flether Cox is who I try to emulate everything after.

Q: You just mentioned Dexter Lawrence and BJ Hill, that was another question that I had for you, whether you watch film on them and you answered that. But in terms of those four guys the Giants have up front, Dexter, Leonard, Dalvin, and BJ, who do you model your game after the most there? Do you have a playing style that you think is more similar to one player than another?

I’d say my playing style is, well I don’t know, I’d really say BJ and Dexter’s playing styles really aren’t that far apart and I feel like my playing style is a little bit different. I feel like I can use more finesse. They finesse but it’s not really like shake and bake off the line type finesse. They have really great hands and really great feet, but I like to hit almost like crossover moves on guards and stuff like that. So I’d say they’re about the same and I try to emulate both of them, like I said. And they’re both really great players to watch and to learn from.

Q: When you talk about those finesse moves, is that really where you lean more towards in your pass-rushing? Do you like to be more finesse than power?

It depends on the down and distance. If we get them in like a long third down, long second down, they’re passing the ball and he’s in gun, oh yeah, I’m definitely hitting finesse moves. 100%. Like if we got a little third and five or third and six or shorter, I’m hitting power. Speed to power for sure. Long-arm to snatch, long-arm to club arm over, just bull-snatch or regular bull-rush.

Q: And do you have a go-to pass-rush move on any given down?

I really don’t. I guess on a speed down or speed rush I’ll hit like a club-arm over. it’s Aaron Donald’s move pretty much. It’s the one he hits all the time, I like hitting that. And the pull-snatch. Those are my two ‘go-to’s’ for power and speed. But it’s really just dependent on the set and who I’m going against.

Q: Right, and when we talk about speed. I mentioned that treadmill video, and of course, you have a big Pro Day coming up on March 30th. I expect you’re going to run the forty-yard dash. What do you expect to run in the forty?

I expect to run at least a 4.86s to 4.83s range. I want to hit the 4.79s range so that’s what I’m working for right now. But between like the 4.83-4.86 range is what I expect to hit.

Q: You talk like you’re an edge rusher, with all these pass-rush moves and stuff. You played nose tackle last year and we saw some of the film. You burst through the line so efficiently in those A-gaps. But I love how, against the run specifically, you’re always looking over the offensive lineman’s shoulder, just monitoring what’s happening in the backfield. Do you think, as a nose tackle, what part of the game is mental for you? Are you studying film regularly, I imagine you are. How important is that mental aspect to being a great defensive lineman at the next level?

To me, if you don’t have that part, unless you’re an absolte freak on the field, it’s kind of hard to be a good d-lineman. Because you have to think as a d-lineman. People think in the trenches it’s not much thinking, you just block or you’re just getting off of blocks. No, there’s a ton of thinking that goes on down there. Whether you’re reading the block or reading the tendencies of the guard, you’re looking at the calls he’s making. Is he making a slide right or a slide left? Then they got the backfield set is he 0, 1, or 2? Is he off-set, is he behind the quarterback? Stuff like that, so there’s a lot of thinking that goes on at D-Line. My ability to use my mind like that, I take pride in and I work on that stuff a lot. But thinking, the mental aspect of the game is almost an entire game, really. You have to have the mental part before the play even starts to do your job correctly when the play begins. So the mental aspect is huge.

Q: Do you think that that is influenced by your history playing linebacker in high school?

I definitely think that and it’s a history of the coaches I’ve had too. I’ve been blessed to have really great coaches throughout my tenure playing football. But it definitely came from playing linebacker and stuff because that’s what I did at linebacker. Reading the pulling guards, looking at the receiver’s sets and backfield sets. I carried that on with me when I came to college to play d-line.

Q: The Giants have Patrick Graham, their defensive coordinator, who revitalized that defense last year. He loves to have ‘multiple’ players. Like I said before, you talk like an edge rusher and you’re able to play 0-tech and the 3, that’s what really intrigues me. Are you OK with making the transition to another position at the next level and really rotating around to find your fit?

Yeah, 100%, wherever they need me at, I’ll go play. No questions asked. I feel like I’m able to play along the d-line. That’s what I think in my head. So wherever they need me to play at, whether that’s the 0, the shade, the 2i, 4i, 5, wherever they need me I’m going to play.

Q: For anybody listening to this or watching this that doesn’t know Alim McNeill as a player, if you had to give them one game to go watch, do you have a specific game in mind that you would recommend?

All of them, to be honest. That’s not to be like, big headed, I didn’t want it to come across that way. But I feel like if you watch all of my games, you’ll see what type of player I am. And I really mean that, I didn’t want to come across like big-headed.

Q: But if there’s one standout performance that you had? Maybe the one with the pick-six? That was a pretty impressive play.

Like one specifically, yeah, that was a good game, but I’d choose Virginia Tech or Miami. Those two games for me were like really good games. Virginia Tech and Miami. But the pick-six was cool. That was a good game, but it was almost like a boring game, so I’d say Virginia Tech or Miami.

Q: Sometimes it’s the hidden production. It’s the soaking up of double teams and the things that don’t really show up on the stat sheet that allows your teammates to do better. How important do you think that is? Kind of being in the background, having an influential role and just soaking up double teams, even if the other guys are getting the number?

Yeah it might sound crazy but that’s what I liked about what my role was last year. It wasn’t too much recognition. You get the recognition from your peers or your coaches though, because they know what you’re doing, even though fans and stuff might not know. Obviously when the scouts are watching they know. But that’s what I like about my job. I perfected my craft to the best of my ability and when I did my job it allowed my guys, the linebackers and whoever was blitzing, the ends, to make plays when I was doing my job the right way. And that’s what I really like about it because I’m a team-oriented guy. So if I’m doing my job the right way, he’s doing his job beside me the right way, he’s doing it the right way, we’re winning ball games and playing cohesive defense, that’s what I really like about it. I don’t really care about all the accolades and that stuff. If I just do my job the right way and I know I’m doing it the right way, my coaches are pleased with what I’m doing, that’s all I really care about.

Q: What do you think your biggest weakness is right now, something you need to improve at the next level?

Not to be cliché, but everything. That’s what I tell myself. I work on everything, get 1% better at everything everyday. Things I’ve been working on: more of an array of pass-rush moves, just adding different moves to myself. My range of motion, just increasing flexibility and what not. Cognition work, sharpening my mind. Strength, obviously. Speed, quickness. Just everything really. I just work on everything everyday. Everytime I go workout, like today, I worked on everything. I got my workout in, did strength training, did speed training right after, I’m gonna watch film later, so I’m trying to get better at everything.

Q: Is there anything specific you do for cognition or flexibility training? I know some people do yoga and cognition-based activities. Anything specific or special that you do?

So as far as flexibility and stuff, I’m not exactly doing yoga, I’m kind of just stretching. I take a band to give me a little bit of a harder stretch. And as far as cognition, we were, when I was in LA doing my training for what would have been the Combine, we used to use an iPad app. It was a reaction time thing. But as far as cognition here, I’m just watching film. And the way I do it, I’ll just have the play in front of me and it will be paused and I’ll just try to guess what block I’m getting based off the backfield sets and based off what the strengths and stuff is so it’s a little bit different but it’s what helps me.

Q: In terms of that training process, preparing for the NFL Draft, how has that been for you? I know things are kind of crazy with COVID-19 going on, so how exactly has that affected your training process, and what exactly have you been doing to prepare?

It didn’t really affect me, I got my eight weeks in. I was out in Los Angeles, which is kind of close. But it did not affect my process for training. It was actually really good, I went out there, my first day out there I was 340 or 341, and I left at 319 and I lost 8% body fat. So it was really good. The eight weeks was really good for me. I started eating a lot better, sleeping a lot better, and now I’m back in Raleigh. I’ve been here for about a week and a couple days. I’m just loving everything about it. I’m still maintaining my training and stuff right now to stay ready for the Pro Day, March 30th. So I don’t really wanna drop my weight anymore, kind of want to stay where I’m at. I think this is a good weight for me. So the training went great, it was a great eight weeks for me.

Q: I have one more question, a fun question. Let’s say you’re in the NFL and your team’s offense is on the field, at the goal line, and it’s third and one, and they need to pound it in. Coach looks around and says, “Where’s Alim?” He pulls you aside and calls a play, “Dream.” Are you ready to go back to your running back routes and pound it in from the one-yard line like you’re William The Fridge Perry?

Yeah! One hundred percent! If they needed me to pound it in from the fifty-yard line, Imma do that! So yeah, one hundred percent, I’ll go in there and get it right. Imma scorer! Everytime I touch the ball I’m scoring, so yeah, I’m definitely doing that.

Q: When do we expect to hear some more music from you?

I don’t know, I think I might record something this weekend. If I finish it I’ll send it to you guys.

Q: Yeah best of luck with everything, I’m really excited to see you make that jump and maybe even hopefully come to the Giants.

Thank you, I appreciate everything and I would love to be a Giant. That would be a huge honor.