Keanu Neal missed the first two games with a knee injury. The Atlanta Falcons’ first-round rookie made his debut just a month ago against rival New Orleans. He had four tackles and a pass breakup. Since then, the safety has 37 tackles and two forced fumbles and a pass breakup.
At 6-foot and 211 pounds, the Florida product is a big kid who knows how to use his body against running backs and pass catchers in the secondary. He posted the top vertical jump (38.0 inch) and broad jump (132.0 inch) among defensive backs at the NFL Combine in February.
Neal had a forced fumble in road affairs against Denver and Seattle. In Sunday’s overtime loss to San Diego, the 21-year-old had nine tackles which ranked second on the team.
The knee is still an issue for Neal, who underwent minor surgery in August. He was limited in Thursday’s practice before being a full participant on Friday.
“The thing I’m most impressed with so far is the tackling,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn told AtlantaFalcons.com. “Man is he playing physical. We knew that part of his game was going to come to life, but it’s the style, attitude, and the way that he tackles that really jumps out to us. We’ve been very pleased with that part.”
Neal is going to need more time to become that all-around player but as of now, he’s playing up to par. As a first-round pick, No. 17 overall to be exact, he has high expectations around his name.
He is loaded with talent and did a little bit of everything for the Gators in college. Neal started 19 of 34 games, totaling 146 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
The Falcons need a playmaker and it seems as if they found one in their high draft pick. Neal is going to learn a lot as the season goes on and Atlanta’s defense will struggle at times because of the youth. The defense is a work in progress, but that isn’t a bad thing when Neal is learning with them.
For Neal, he’s already third on the team in tackles behind only Kemal Ishmael and Deion Jones. His two forced fumbles are second to Vic Beasley Jr. Those are impressive feats considering he was out of the first two games this season.
Quarterbacks are faring well against Atlanta, with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions as the Falcons defense ranks second-worst in passing yards allowed per game (294.3) and seventh-worst in total yards allowed per game (386.0).
Only San Francisco and Cleveland have surrendered more touchdowns than Atlanta. For the Falcons, they sit atop the NFC South with a 4-3 record, but if the offense starts to fade they could be in serious trouble. Having Neal in the fold and starting on the back end, the chances for an improved product are there.
The Falcons are a team to beat in the NFC and have really shined at times this season, but getting the defense to come around is key and Neal is part of the process.