The Lions will be without a key defensive piece moving forward. After Alim McNeill left the team’s Week 13 win on multiple occasions, the Lions moved the ascending starter to IR.
Dan Campbell said McNeill was facing a potential absence; Tuesday’s transaction confirms a lengthy stay off the roster will commence. The third-year defensive lineman will not be eligible to be activated until Week 18. Given McNeill’s performance thus far this season, this represents a considerable blow to Detroit’s defense.
Chosen in the third round during Campbell and GM Brad Holmes‘ first draft with the team, McNeill has been a regular Lions starter throughout his career. This season, however, has brought a breakthrough. Pro Football Focus ranks McNeill as the NFL’s sixth-best interior D-lineman. The young defender has five sacks and has matched his full-season tackle-for-loss showing by notching six in the Lions’ first 12 games. Among Lions, only Aidan Hutchinson exited Week 13 with more sacks (5.5) than McNeill.
The good news for the Lions: they might have McNeill back for the playoffs. The North Carolina State product sustained a knee sprain, per NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, who adds a return this season is in play. This represents a positive development for a Lions team that also may be targeting late-season returns from C.J. Gardner-Johnson and James Houston. Still, the number of unavailable defenders in Detroit is piling up.
Detroit has lost Gardner-Johnson, Houston and Emmanuel Moseley to severe injuries this season. Moseley’s second ACL tear in two years will sideline him into the 2024 offseason. At defensive tackle, the Lions are reasonably well situated. The team has veteran Isaiah Buggs, former second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike and rookie third-rounder Brodric Martin. The latter has not seen much time this season, with the Lions making him a healthy scratch for most of the year. Martin has only played in one game this season. McNeill’s injury could force the Lions into bumping the second-day draft investment into part-time duty.
The Lions rank 23rd defensively, though the unit ranks 10th in DVOA and fifth against the run. McNeill has been a central part in the success against ground attacks. To help fill the void, the Lions signed 13-year veteran interior D-lineman Tyson Alualu to their practice squad. In addition to the McNeill and Alualu transactions, Detroit signed cornerback Kindle Vildor from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.