As the regular season nears, we’re counting down the 20 most important players on the Atlanta Falcons roster. At No. 14 is rookie safety Keanu Neal.
It’s sometimes unfair to place high expectations on rookies, but first-rounders need to perform well early on for a team to improve on the season before. Keanu Neal was a surprising selection with the 17th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, but he has the talent to make an instant impact in Dan Quinn’s defense.
When watching Neal on tape, his violence stands out. Blogging Dirty’s Eric Robinson once described him as a ‘heat seeking missile’, and that perfectly characterizes the man out of Florida.
The Falcons hope they have their ‘enforcer’ in the defensive backfield. Neal can operate in single-high safety coverages and roam the middle of the field. He has drawn comparisons to the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor, who Quinn coached during his time in Seattle.
Funny enough, Chancellor has been working out with Neal this summer and had high praise for the rookie on his personal Instagram account. Chancellor wrote:
"“After a long day of working with the kids and getting drained by the sun. We still got back in the Lab and worked on technique and fundamentals. It’s about longevity, keep your eyes on the lookout for @keanu_neal. Humble and Hungry is all we know. There is no limits for this young man. #NFL#BigSafeties #HeavyHitters #Humble #Hungry #FXF #EachOneTeachOne”"
Praise at the safety position doesn’t come much higher than from Chancellor. Neal now needs to put all of his talent together on the field through training camp and into the regular season. There will undoubtedly be hiccups along the way, as there is with every rookie, but the raw ability is there.
The secondary as a whole looks stronger now. At cornerback, the Falcons have a talented pairing in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. The safety tandem of Neal and Ricardo Allen has potential.
A lot of eyes will be on Neal when he steps onto the field for training camp, as is the way for every early draft pick. He has the potential to become a very valuable piece to Quinn’s defense, and for that reason he is one of the most important players on the roster.