The two defensive tackle have some very similar traits, but they will play at different spots in the Lions defensive scheme. While Onwuzurike will play a rotational role at the 3- through 5-techniques, McNeill could end up being a Day 1 starter at the 0/1 technique (nose tackle).
McNeill played the 0-technique in NC State’s 3-3-5 scheme which should help him have an experiential advantage in his transition to the NFL. His college days prepared him to be very familiar when 2-gapping when lined up over the center, but he was at his best when turned loose and allowed to 1-gap. In the Lions projected scheme, the nose will have to be able to incorporate both 1- and 2-gapping skills into his toolbox.
At 317 pounds, McNeill plays with a stout base against the run, and while he possesses above-average athleticism, he’s not a lateral defender and is most comfortable working the A and B-gaps—though he does have a highly instinctual nose for the football.
Power is one of his biggest assets, and he will use it to hold his spot and is capable of occupying multiple defenders. McNeill will also deploy his power in his pass-rushing game, using his impressive strength to punish his opponent with his hand usage.
Another massive skill McNeill leans on is his explosion and fluidity when penetrating. Most nose tackles just don’t move like him. His first step gives him a significant advantage over offensive linemen, but he will need to develop secondary pass rush moves in the NFL when dealing with elite centers—like teammate Frank Ragnow.
McNeill will immediately challenge John Penisini for the starting nose tackle spot, and while Penisini is the incumbent, this Lions regime drafted McNeil in the third-round for a reason. He’s my front-runner for the starting role.