Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn pointed out two key aspects of Keanu Neal’s play that made him worthy of being a first round pick: Speed and hard hitting.
The young safety recorded a time of 4.62 seconds on the 40-yard dash and impressed many scouts with his explosiveness towards the receiver. His explosiveness was quantitatively measured in his broad jump and vertical jump. At the combine, Neal tied for second among strong safeties with a 38-inch vertical and ranked first in broad jump with 11 feet. In a phrase, the kid is athletic.
Many analysts and pundits have suggested that Neal will play a role similar to the Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor in Seattle’s defense: A fast, punishing safety with the ability to lay out opposing receivers. A presence like that in the defensive backfield could definitely provide a much needed boost to Atlanta’s struggling defense.
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Neal has the potential to revive an almost forgotten position in the NFL. The so-called “enforcer safety” is rarity in the league nowadays. Hall of Famers like Ronnie Lott or assassins like Steve Atwater and Jack Tatum used to terrorize offensive players by lowering their shoulder and crashing like a freight train into the body of the receiver, running back or quarterback. Hopefully, Neal’s name can one day be alongside those legendary enforcers.
Falcons coaches have already remarked about Neal’s potential to “be something special.” The rookie safety’s ability will only be known when he straps on his helmet and steps out on to the field, but with his combine numbers and highlight reel from Florida, it’s easy to get excited.
How can you not look forward to a safety who seems destined to fly from sideline to sideline and inflict pain on opposing offensive players?