Chris Neild sat in a house full of family members and friends, all of them hanging on every word of the NFL Draft’s Day 3 telecast last Saturday, hoping and praying to hear the West Virginia nose tackle’s name called.
But the picks kept coming, and Neild’s phone remained silent.
Finally about 4 p.m., the 6-foot-2, 319-pounder got a call, but it wasn’t the call. It was the Washington Redskins calling to tell him that they liked him, and had multiple late-round picks (two sixths and four sevenths) and hoped to use one on him.
But pick after pick went off the board, and Neild’s wait continued.
“I was at a cousin’s house. The whole family was there and when the seventh round started, I walked up to my little cousin’s room to watch alone,” Neild said. “Eventually a friend joined me, and when it got down to four picks left, I was getting ready to just go downstairs, but my friend told me to stay and keep watching.”
With only two picks left in the entire draft, Neild’s phone rang. Mike Shanahan was on the line and this time had the news Neild was waiting for.
“He said, ‘Welcome to the Redskins. Better late than never,’” recalled Neild, whom Washington took with the 253rd pick – their last of 12 selections in the draft. “Definitely better late than ever. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. It’s a good thing I stayed upstairs, because I wouldn’t have been able to hear him once my name was announced. He told me they liked me and that they believe I can come in and help them at the nose tackle position.”
Shanahan echoed those sentiments about 45 minutes later on Saturday when he addressed the media and declared the Redskins’ draft a success because of the talent and depth the team acquired.
Nose tackle is a key position for the Redskins, who last season transitioned to the 3-4 defense but lacked a consistent anchor for their defensive front. Albert Haynesworth didn’t want to line up over center and take on double and triple teams while linebackers shot the gaps for big plays. Ma’ake Kemoeatu was willing, but was working his way back from a year on the sidelines thanks to a torn Achilles’ tendon. Anthony Bryant had the size, but had only four games of experience – all of them playing in the 4-3 defense.
Washington couldn’t snag one of the top nose tackles in the draft, however, as Marcell Dareus went third overall to the Bills, and Phil Taylor went to the Browns 21st overall. The Redskins stuck to their draft board rather than reach on any of a few remaining nose tackle prospects, They wound up able to nab Neild in the seventh round.
When asked about what he liked about Neild, Shanahan was blunt.
“Everything,” he blurted. “I love the way he competes. I love how important football is to him, because you can tell. He’s got a mindset when he plays, and you can tell he really enjoys football. He lines up right over that center and competes every down. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t come in here and do everything possible to make this football team. Just talking to him, I could tell he’s excited and wants to get here right away and do what he can to make this football team. He’s a great competitor.”
Neild said Shanahan expressed similar confidence in him during their phone conversation.
“It meant a lot,” he said. “I have high expectations for myself, so when the lockout’s resolved, I plan on getting there, rookie camp and everything and start making an impact and do whatever possible to help this team win.”
Neild would have rather not endured such a stressful wait, but he believes the Redskins are the ideal fit for him. West Virginia ran a 3-3-5 defense his entire career in Morgantown, so his role in Washington’s system would remain very similar.
“It’s going to help me tremendously,” said Neild, who as a Redskin will be only three hours from his hometown of Strasburg, Pa. “I was in college for five years and played four years. I know I could play a three-technique or shade, but that zero gap, I feel like I’ve mastered it.
“It’s a lot different lining up to someone’s side and lining over top of someone,” added Neild, who last season recorded 31 tackles and three sacks. “You’ve got to take on blockers whether it’s right in front of you, or from the left side or the right. You can’t worry about stats and glory. If you can help the defense win, then that’s all that matters. At West Virginia, our defense was No. 3 in the nation in sacks and our linebackers got a lot of tackles. I take pride in helping make that possible. As a nose, that’s what you have to do.”