There are several former West Virginia football players who will be watching the NFL Draft with interest this weekend. Some could hear their names called, including defensive lineman Chris Neild.
While Robert Sands and Noel Devine will likely be selected ahead of him, Neild is probably the most NFL-ready of the bunch. At least that’s what WVU defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich has been telling NFL Scouts.
“He’s smart; he’s conscientious; he’s dependable. He has all those qualities of a guy who’s going to work hard for you. You’re never going to wonder where he is; in the offseason he’s always going to work hard,” said Kirelawich. “He has all the qualities of a ten to 12 year veteran, that’s what they’re getting when they get him.”
It seems like the NFL teams are starting to get the drift as Neild’s draft stock has risen since the end of the season. During the season it’s easy for the average fan to overlook Neild’s accomplishments. He had only 35 tackles (10th on the team) and three sacks last season. However, anyone who takes those stats at face value is missing a whole lot. Neild was the anchor of the Mountaineers’ third ranked defense, taking on two or three blockers, most downs freeing up linebackers J.T. Thomas and Anthony Leonard to make a combined 143 tackles last season.
Right now, the 6-foot-1, 301-pound Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania native is projected as a middle-to-late round pick. But, you won’t catch him checking out the internet draft chat rooms.
“It’s put in my ear, I have some family members that tell me about it—they saw this on a website, or they saw that on a website. I say, ‘that’s great.’ That’s something I’m just not interested in,” said Neild on Metronews Statewide Sportsline last week. “That’s what people have to say, but I know once draft day gets here it’s all up to the teams and how they feel about you. Hopefully, I left a good impression at the Senior Bowl and at the [NFL] Combine and, hopefully, it will work out.”
Neild impressed at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine, where he was faster and more agile than the other nose tackles. While Neild lacks the sheer bulk of the prototypical run stuffing nose tackle he has the strength and athleticism—not to mention the toughness—to make up for his lack of size.
“This guy is a 230-pound guy naturally,” said Kirelawich. “He doesn’t have to gain a whole lot of weight and get his body all out of proportion to be the guy they want. You see enough NFL games—with those slobs with those stomachs that look like they’re knocked up with triplets. He doesn’t have to do that.”
Neild is a naturally big guy. He has the thick frame of a line clogging, run-stopper and he has put on more weight preparing for the draft. Most NFL draft services list him around 300 pounds. That puts him closer to the weight of most NFL nose tackles that play in the middle.
That bulk is the result of months of training, first in Arizona where he trained for two months leading up to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. He’s now back in Morgantown working out at the Milan Puskar Center.
“It was pretty hectic,” said Neild of the NFL combine in Indianapolis. “I was a little calmer there than I was at the Senior Bowl, because the senior Bowl was my first experience with that level of competition and being exposed to all those NFL teams and scouts and coaches.”
The work ethic displayed by Neild over the years at WVU and ever since should show NFL teams that Neild is willing to do what it takes to be successful at the next level. It also put him in an elite class of WVU defensive lineman, according to Kirelawich who has been coaching linemen at WVU for more than three decades.
“I saw the big hands that [John] Thornton had, thick like [Chris] Parker, they’re all the same guy,” said Kirelawich when asked what he saw in Neild. “Chris Parker, John Thornton and Chris Neild are all the same person in different years—fingers like kielbasa, a forearm that goes from the elbow to the hand, there’s no wrist in there. These guys were all-in, all the time. They were all-in when it was good and all-in when the going was very hard. It’s the second hardest position on the field behind center, because the center has to do everything the nose has to do and snap the football.”
“Beyond being good football players they had the humility about them,” continued Kirelawich. “There was a sense of ownership team-wise with them too, it’s their team there’s a lot of pride on the line—very prideful kids. These guys were man’s man from beginning to end–from the time they walked in the door until the time they left. Nothing changed.”
Oh, yeah, did I mention the toughness.
“There’s tough and then there’s mentally tough,” said Kirelawich. “The tough guy will punch a guy in the face, he’ll fight. The mentally tough guy will get a punch in the face and keep fighting.”
Judging by the shape of Neild’s face after some games over the past four years, I would say it’s safe to say he’s taken his fair share of “punches” and continued to fight on in the trenches.
Neild is attracting interest mostly from NFL teams that play a 3-4 type defense. That’s good news since most of his experience is taking up space—and blockers—in the middle of a three man front. But, Neild is quick to point out that it’s a whole different ballgame in the NFL.
It’s going to be a completely different level of completion,” said Neild of the NFL. “Preparing for a game in college as opposed to preparing for a workout with an NFL team is different—they’re looking for different aspects of your game and how you act as a person and player. Those are things you have to carry along with you as you take your visits. In the professional ranks I think it becomes a little more mental—those offenses ran by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, they know what they’re doing back there and you have to watch a lot of film.”
While the draft is going to go on as planned this coming weekend, the NFL season may not as owners have locked out players as the two sides bicker over a new collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s difficult, I’m just going along as if everything is normal,” said Neild. “I can’t do anything about anything. I just have to keep working the way I’ve been working. I’m trying to stay in the best shape possible. Hopefully, I’ll hear my name, hopefully I’ll get drafted and then take it from there.”
The NFL draft gets underway Thursday evening with the first round followed by the second and third rounds on Friday and rounds 4-7 on Saturday. One of those days will likely be life-changing for Chris Neild.