Keanu Neal and Deion Jones have quickly established themselves as two of the most promising young players in the NFL, and by thriving in Dan Quinn’s defense, each earned a spot on Gil Brandt’s 2016 NFL All-Rookie Team.
The No. 17 overall pick last spring, Neal has earned a reputation as a hard-hitting safety — one who can intimidate opposing receivers and knock the ball loose at a high rate. He forced five fumbles last year, good for second on the team, tallied 106 tackles and broke up nine passes.
“Some thought Neal was overdrafted, but he proved to be a significant contributor to the Falcons' defense,” Brandt, a former Super Bowl-winning executive with the Cowboys said. “He's a smart player and a big hitter, like Kam Chancellor but faster.”
Jones was the only Falcon and only rookie to record more tackles than Neal, gaining 108 during the regular season. The second-rounder reeled in a team-best 3 interceptions — two of which he returned for touchdowns — and used his sideline-to-sideline speed to become a force a middle linebacker.
“Jones is one of the new breed of linebackers,” said Brandt, “where the emphasis is on speed and the ability to run toward the ball.”
The Falcons were one of nine teams to have multiple rookies make Brandt’s list, along with Tampa Bay, Dallas, Chicago, LA Chargers, Kansas City, New Orleans, New England and Detroit.