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Player Spotlight: Keanu Neal

A detailed look at Keanu Neal's fantasy prospects for 2016.

A “QUINN-TESSENTIAL”NEED

Atlanta’s defensive woes for the past few years have been well documented. While there was some massive improvement from 2014 to 2015, the Falcons finished in the middle of the pack (16th) in overall defensive ranking. At the strong safety spot, William Moore has served as the stopgap option for the last two years. However, with Seattle’s former Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn at the helm, we knew a change would likely be coming in this Draft. Quinn undoubtedly desired an enforcer with the hard hitting mentality and physical prowess of his former box safety, Kam Chancellor. With the 17th pick of the first round, the Falcons selected that man when they took Keanu Neal. Neal played strong safety in high school, but was asked to play both strong safety and free safety in college. In his junior season with the Florida Gators, Neal managed to net 51 solo tackles, 33 assists, one forced fumble, and an interception.

KING KEANU

He looks the part of a box safety and has the athleticism and speed to match. Neal delivers highlight-reel-quality hits to his targets. You can tell that he enjoys contact. His playing style is somewhat reminiscent of D.J. Swearinger’s. He always plays with urgency and intensity. While Neal excels at run support, he isn’t limited to being a thumper in the box. He can also run with wide receivers stride for stride. Neal will have a great number of tackle opportunities with a linebacker group ahead of him that hasn’t quite gelled. He is pencilled in as the day one starter and figures to be a top-ten safety annually.

NEAL DOWN

Neal can get “out of control” with his body at times. When he was overaggressive or took odd angles to the ball carrier, the tape shows that Neal sometimes missed tackles. Over the last two years, he has missed seven games due to injury. Scouts think his playing style may lead to him getting banged up more than other safeties who are more cautious with how they sacrifice their bodies. Neal also needs to work on his field awareness when he’s in coverage mode.

POSITIVES

  • Neal is an instant starter on this unit.

  • He should get ample tackle opportunity behind a questionable linebacker group.

  • Neal has perennial top-ten safety potential.

NEGATIVES

  • He needs to work on refining his tackling and taking better angles to a target.

  • Neal’s playing style could result in injuries or a shortened career.

  • Neal needs to improve his field awareness when asked to run and cover.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Neal is your classic in-the-box safety who will rack up the numbers in a tackle-rich environment. In standard IDP leagues, defensive back production is less scarce than any other position, a subject covered in this article. Nevertheless, Neal is currently going in the mid-third round of mixed rookie pool dynasty leagues. If you can get him at this price, that is fantastic value, but even a early-third would not be too much to pay for a safety with yearly top-ten upside.

2016 PROJECTIONS

JOHN NORTON'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

78

20

1

2

1

7

1

0

165..50

AARON RUDNICKI'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

76

20

1

2

1

7

2

0

161.00

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

NFL Draft Geek’s Brian Johannes stated in his scouting profile that you know what you are getting with Neal at the Pro level:

This year's class of safeties seems to be heavy on the run-supporting side, and even though Neal falls into that category, his stock continues to rise because his impact hits makes him an impact player. For all the talk of hybrids and versatility, there is something to be said for knowing exactly what you're getting, and with Keanu Neal you know exactly what you're getting; an assassin.

Aaron Freeman of Falcfans.com feels in his scouting report that Neal is a high-character, hard working player:

I’ve only heard rave reviews about his off-field and on-field demeanors. Everything suggests he puts in the effort in the film room and on the practice field and also plays with high energy. Always the first to congratulate teammates on positive plays. Bottom line, if he washes out of the NFL, it won’t be because of character or off-field issues.

Jonah Tuls of USA Today’s Draftwire offers the following view of Neal in his scouting report:

In conclusion, I see a lot of Eric Reid in his game as a safety considering his size, athleticism, hard hitting, but overaggressive mentality that could drive a coaching staff crazy. I don’t see why Neal can’t have a similar or even greater impact on the field as Reid when he steps on the field, but he needs to speed up his mental processing and see the field much better before he can reach his lofty upside as a prospect. If he can adjust to the speed of the NFL game, he will have a long career in this league as a physically imposing, hard hitting, and playmaking safety who can play both close to the LOS and in the back end.