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Falcons rookie Keanu Neal looking to be more than just a big hit

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Falcons rookie Keanu Neal looking to be more than just a big hit

Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Dan Quinn knew Keanu Neal would be a big hit, and the rookie strong safety has been steady and physical on defense since rebounding from preseason arthroscopic knee surgery. But now the Atlanta Falcons' coach wants to see another level of play from his first-round draft pick.

So what does that entail?

"Ball-hawking," Quinn said. "He’s such a physical guy, so now can you force some fumbles or can you get the ball off of guys because the man-to-man matchups and the tackling that he’s had, it’s exactly like we’d hoped it would be. And then the next step as a ball player is having that same physicality and then, oh by the way, trying to get the ball out as well."

The Falcons have five interceptions but just one fumble recovery on defense. Neal and pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. each have forced two fumbles, but the opposing team has recovered all of them.

League-leader Buffalo has six fumble recoveries, and 25 teams have two or more fumble recoveries this season. Atlanta is plus-1 in the turnover ratio, much better than last year's minus-7 finish. Yet the defensive-minded Quinn is, of course, greedy when it comes to wanting more turnovers.

Forcing the ball out on defense is emphasized daily. That's why defensive players are required to punch at the ball on every play in practice.

Neal has gotten used to the routine. Now he just has to put it to better use.

"I didn't get a ton [of forced fumbles or recoveries] in college, but that's something I can do," Neal said. "It's something I'm going to focus more on throughout the week. That's what are program is all about. It's all about the ball. Being ball-aware is huge, and I want to make sure I do that."

That's not the only aspect of his game that Neal is trying to refine. He's played in just four regular-season games, so he's still has some learning to do.

"It's understanding what offenses are doing and what they're trying to do, how they're trying to attack us," Neal said. "I have an idea, but I want to be really, really dialed in and really detailed on that. I'm studying more. I'm seeing it from a perspective of, 'What are they trying to do to me?'"

Neal is third on the team with 32 tackles. His hard-hitting style is evident every week.

The only thing that might slow him down is if his knee gives him issues once again. He popped up on the injury report Thursday as limited in preparation for Sunday's game against San Diego. Quinn said it will just be a case of maintenance throughout the season.

Neal's not overly concerned.

"It feels fine," Neal said. "It feels good."

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I was a huge fan of William Moore. I was pulling for him to be a top 5 safety in this game. I was a huge fan of Calvin Pryor coming out of college, who's a pretty good player at times. I like the hard hitting aggression.


Lemme tell you something though by my eyes, in years past, I've become used to seeing a WR or HB, TE, whatever it may be; catch the ball underneath and run for a first down as the safety WAITS for the ball carrier to get to him at the first down or beyond it..


This guy Neal attacks before the ball even touches the receivers hands and the receiver is down before he can take a step. Specifically a couple games against Denver, there was one I saw Emmanuel Sanders, one of the shiftiest WRs in the game, with YAC catch the ball over the middle and have space, and Neal shot out like a rocket and stopped him QUICK. He tackles tight ends in the open field when I'm used to TEs breaking tackle after tackle..There's something about the way he attacks that makes me love him as a player.

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I wasn't a huge fan of the Neal pick. I liked the vision as he was clearly a prototype for DQ's defense and it was ticking off a need. I wanted defensive line help or a guard, but trenches are my preference in all drafts pretty much. That said, Neal has looked ready to go from day one and looks as if he has a huge career ahead of him. 

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14 minutes ago, ltstorm2 said:

I'm curious if this "always punching for the ball" has led to some of our missed tackles.  Every week there are gang tackles that the ball carrier is able to get out of.  It pisses me off.

That happens quite frequently in any game. Going after the ball instead of tackling the runner while he gets more yards. 

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7 hours ago, Xfactor said:

Loved this pick from day one

Love the Keanu Neal pick now, but I must admit that I did not love it "from day one". Initially I didn't think Neal was quite worthy enough of a #17 pick, thinking he was more like a younger version of William Moore, who was drafted in Round 2. I thought that if the Falcons really wanted Neal as much as they appeared to going into the draft, then they should at least trade-down some and get an extra pick. Boy was I wrong. Keanu Neal is very much deserving of a #17 draft pick, and I'm glad the Falcons chose him.

Neal hits as hard as, if not harder than, Moore. However, Neal is a sure tackler, whereas Moore was prone to miss some tackles. Neal is much faster and much better in coverage than Moore ever was. Neal has the potential to turn into a true game-changer, while Moore never was a game-changer. From another article on Neal written by Andrew Hirsh and posted today by Fantaye Jones:

"Neal has fared well for an assorment of reasons — perhaps the most important being his sound tackling. He has been credited with 20 solo tackles in four games, and according to Pro Football Focus, has yet to miss a single one.

“The thing I’m most impressed so far is the tackling,” head coach Dan Quinn said of Neal. “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 has been effective in coverage, as well. Per PFF, he’s allowed 17 catches on 29 targets for 158 yards and a touchdown, which equates to an 85.1 passer rating. In Denver and Seattle, he gave up only eight catches on 15 targets for 84 yards. Neal also forced a fumble in each of those contests."


Some of my pre-draft thoughts on Neal came from several articles similar to the following pre-draft article from Vaughn McClure:

"Trade-down scenario could help Falcons capture Gator

Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons, with just five draft picks, have expressed a willingness to trade back with hopes of securing more picks.

Could such a scenario lead them to Gator Nation? It's possible.

It's no secret the Falcons have a strong interest in Florida safety Keanu Neal, a guy who views the Falcons as the ideal fit for him. Neal is a hard-hitting, in-the-box strong safety who could immediately step in as a starter in coach Dan Quinn's scheme. And Neal has familiarity with Quinn, who recruited him to Florida as the Gators defensive coordinator.

The Falcons have the 17th overall selection in Thursday's NFL draft. The general belief is that its too high to draft Neal, but it might be worth strong consideration if a player the Falcons targeted such as Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd is no longer on the board.

But you can justify trading down later in the first round and taking Neal -- who received a second-round grade from ESPN draft expect Todd McShay -- if you're convinced he can make an instant impact. Neal is likely to be gone when the Falcons select in the second round (50th overall).

So where might the Falcons end up if they decide to trade down? ESPN Insider and former NFL general manager Mark Dominik offered some context. Dominik always viewed first-round draft picks No. 18-No. 22 as "hot spots" for trade activity. As Dominik explained, most drafts consists of 18 to 22 first-round talents. So, teams picking at No. 23 and lower might consider trading up for their opportunity to land that desired first-round talent.

To Dominik's point, the Falcons themselves moved up from 30th overall to No. 22 to select Desmond Trufant in 2013 by trading their first-round pick, a third-rounder, and a sixth-rounder to the Rams. (The Falcons also acquired a seventh-round pick in 2015, which they used for cornerback Akeem King.)

In 2014, the Saints moved up from No. 27 to No. 20 to select receiver Brandin Cooks by sending their first-round pick and a third-rounder to Arizona. That same year, the Browns moved up from No. 26 to No. 22 to select this quarterback named Johnny Manziel by swapping first-round picks and sending a third-round pick to the Eagles.

No doubt the Falcons could benefit from an extra third-round pick, and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff believes this draft possesses strong talent through the first three rounds.

If the Falcons indeed consider targeting Neal in a trade-back scenario, they might want to do it before Pittsburgh's pick at No. 25. One of Neal's two team visits was to the Steelers, and there is an obvious interest, although the Steelers could trade back themselves. And there are other teams giving Neal first-round consideration as well."


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What's crazy is he is third on the team in tackles and he spotted the rest of the squad 2 weeks!  I love this pick more and more every week.  Him, Jones and Campbell...out of the same draft class...that is pretty nuts if they all end up being as good as everyone thinks they will be and are showing to be.

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Hey Prof what's actually funny is that Moore has better timed speed than what Neal put up.Also if I recall the worry on Neal was he wouldn't be able to run in coverage with RBs and WRer's.

The 2 biggest differences between Moore and Neal is instincts and touch wood injury.The first mentioned in the latter part just couldn't get on the field.

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1 hour ago, HEIST said:

Doesn't matter too much, but I do recall pre draft reports that Quinn was pushing really hard for Keanu for weeks.

everybody with half a brain (and I like KIWI and know he has one) knows these defensive picks are Quinn picks.  He came to ATL w/ very specific criteria on what he was looking for at every defensive position.  YES, Dimitroff and his team are charged w/ finding the players that have the physical attributes, speed and skills that Quinn wants.   They (scouting dept and TD/Pioli) pair down the number to a manageable amount for DQ to look at so he can see who he wants.

Not that there is zero credit for TD, but - of all the players to say "troffed" - Keanu Neal is the worst possible one to use as an example when trying to credit Dimitroff.  I doubt he had to be paired down - Quinn has known about Keanu for 4 years.   

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4 minutes ago, kiwifalcon said:

Lol your getting funnier and funnier so now all of a sudden TD had nothing to do with picking Neal hahahahahaha wow.

I suppose he had nothing to do with Trufant and Alford as well lol..

Your still on that just wow.

I said you had a brain in the earlier post - but I may have overestimated you.  NO ONE but you and gazoo believes Dimitroff had anything to do w/ Keanu Neal - but feel free to keep posting otherwise and squeezing the noose tighter.

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