Many pundits in the football industry were surprised when the Falcons drafted Keanu Neal in the first round. Of the 110 predictions in our mock draft monitor, which included input from 10 writers and was compiled over the course of nearly three months, not a single entry had the Florida defensive back landing at No. 17 overall.
Still, this move makes sense on a number of levels. Strong safety was a need for Atlanta at the time; Neal, who embodies Dan Quinn's "fast and physical" style, is a great fit for the scheme.
Neal has drawn comparisons to Kam Chancellor, Seattle's hard-hitting SS based off the style in which he plays the game: Gil Brandt believes Neal is like Chancellor but faster. Todd McShay said the ex-Gator has what it takes to play Chancellor's role in Quinn's defense.
And Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety himself, expressed a similar sentiment [subscription required] last weekend when he said Neal is one of 10 rookies who landed in a perfect home.
"To play Cover 3 as a core scheme, the Falcons needed to land an enforcer in the secondary—a safety in the mold of Kam Chancellor who can bring the hammer in the run front and close on the ball as an underneath defender in zone coverage. That's Neal," Bowen wrote.
"He's the Falcons' thumper as the eighth defender in the box. At 6-foot and 211 pounds, Neal has enough size to get dirty versus the run game, and his high-level football IQ allows him to play much faster than his stopwatch speed in the low 4.6 range. Sink, read the quarterback and drive on the ball. Then deliver a blow to finish."
Falcons coaches got a glimpse of Neal's ability during last week's rookie minicamp, where he flashed his speed, coverage ability and aggressiveness near the line of scrimmage. According to Quinn, the talented DB got "off to a great start" and displayed the kind of work ethic the team wants to see.
"This strong safety is a key part of Atlanta's defensive scheme, which coach Dan Quinn incorporated after time in Seattle," Bowen said. "And Neal fits the style of football the Falcons are trying to play."