Lions draft two in 3rd round: DT Alim McNeil, CB Ifeatu Melifonwu

With the first of their two picks in the third round, the Lions drafted a second defensive tackle – Alim McNeil out of North Carolina State at 72nd overall.

Then with the 101st overall pick (from the Rams), the Lions selected cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu (Syracuse) on Friday night in the NFL draft.

In the second round the Lions had drafted defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike (Washington). 

All three picks on Day Two are on the defensive side after selecting right tackle Penei Sewell in the first round on Thursday.

“We get players we love, we get players we’re excited about,” GM Brad Holmes said afterward.

Holmes seemed pleased with all three additions. He liked Onwuzurike so much he thought about trying to trade up to make sure they could get him. No trade was made, but the football gods were with Holmes.

“He’s a scheme fit, very explosive, very talented. He’s one I identified early in the process back in 2019,” Holmes said.

McNeil said he feels the Lions are trending in the right direction.

“I really think something special is brewing here and I can’t wait to get it going,” McNeil said in a Zoom call with the media.

McNeil talked with several teams, but recalls his discussions with the Lions.

“I remember it was a great meeting I loved every minute of it. I remember they were really impressed on how I interviewed with them as well, overall it was just a great meeting,” McNeil said.

McNeill, who is 6-2 and 317 pounds, made an impact as a true freshman in 2018 (24 tackles, 5.5 for loss, with 3.5 sacks, three pass breakups in 13 games, one start). 

As a sophomore, he started the final eight games of the year (28 tackles, 7.5 for loss, with 5.5 sacks in 12 total appearances). 

McNeil’s progress continued in 2020, when he became a second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-ACC selection (26 tackles, 4.5 for loss, one sack, one interception) while starting in 10 of 11 appearances. 

Melifonwu, a big, athletic and versatile corner at 6-foot-2 with a 42-inch vertical, doesn’t know specifically what role he will play in Detroit.

“I feel like my size and athleticism definitely helps a lot just because I feel like I might be able to make up for things other corners can’t. Honestly it’s just a plus — having a technique and having athletic ability go along with. I think it helps me in a lot of areas,’’ Melionwu said on a Zoom call with the media.

His brother, Obi, was selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of UConn. With a five-year age difference Ifeatu’s older brother has helped push him along the way. 

He said he wouldn’t describe his relationship with his brother as a rivalry but more motivational. After his brother was drafted Ifeatu counted down until it was his time for the NFL. 

“It really pushes me to go harder in every aspect not just in the athleticism and drills like that, film room, getting my body right – everything, it’s an overall motivator,’’ Melifonwu said. “My goal is to be better than him, beat his numbers and that’s exactly what he wanted me to do.”

After a redshirt season at Syracuse, he showed promise despite missing four games due to injury (15 tackles, six pass breakups in nine games as a reserve). Melifonwu missed two games with a lower-body injury in 2019, as well, but led the Orange with eight pass breakups in nine games (eight starts) while also recording 18 tackles and intercepting two passes.

He started all 11 games in a shortened 2020 season, garnering third-team All-ACC honors (55 tackles, three for loss, one interception, nine pass breakups). 

The Lions two remaining draft picks for Saturday when the action starts at noon.

Round 4: No. 112

Round 5: No. 153

Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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