Some people thought that the Atlanta Falcons reached on safety Keanu Neal with the 17th pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Neal was a team need pick rather than the best player on the board which is why the pick was unpopular. I was skeptical myself, but after watching Neal’s highlight reels, it’s clear that he brings a physical presence to the Falcons’ secondary that the team was lacking.
Neal plays the safety position with the reckless abandon of a Ronnie Lot or Steve Atwater, not just hitting ball carriers, but destroying them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not predicting a Hall of Fame career for Neal, but I do see in him a kamikaze that is a lot more hammer than nail. He plays at full speed even laying devastating hits on teammates in practice, ask Jacob Tamme.
More from Blogging Dirty
- Atlanta Falcons are the perfect fit for Leonard Floyd
- 3 Largest Atlanta Falcons 2023 dead cap hits
- Atlanta Falcons trade up for a quarterback in this full mock draft
- Atlanta Falcons: 3 trade packages to land first-overall pick
- 3 Reasons the Atlanta Falcons shouldn’t fear Derek Carr and the Saints
The violent nature of Neal’s style of play is a welcome addition to a weak Falcons’ defense but it does give me pause. Like an upright running back that seeks contact, Neal’s style makes him potentially vulnerable to injury, particularly concussion and shoulder injuries.
I predict that Neal knocks somebody out cold on the gridiron this year, but I’m horrified that he is going to hurt himself in the process. It’s worth noting that Neal is not injury prone. In his three years at Florida the only significant injury he suffered was a high ankle sprain, not the kind of thing that comes from being a vicious hitter.
In his three years at Florida, Neal accumulated 144 tackles, five interceptions and two sacks on the big time stage of the SEC. He lacks sprinter speed, 4.62 forty at the combine, but makes up for it with a high level of football intelligence and good hands. There can be no doubt that the addition of Neal will improve a woefully inadequate Falcons defense but don’t expect him alone to be the savior that Falcons fans are looking for.
The role that Neal was brought in to play is an important element to Coach Dan Quinn’s scheme. Like Kam Chancellor in Seattle, Neal will be responsible for intimidating slot receivers and handling Tight Ends. I for one can’t wait for the bone crushing hits that Neal will be delivering weekly.
Keanu Neal brings a much-needed enforcer to the Falcons secondary, but here’s to hoping that the pain he inflicts is on players in the other uniform and not to himself.