The Atlanta Falcons, with the No. 17 pick, selected Florida safety Keanu Neal in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Atlanta Falcons chose the Florida safety Keanu Neal on Thursday night, although their needs also included a pass rusher, tight end, linebacker and offensive guard. The Falcons surprised many with their willingness to take a safety so early, implying that their main focus was on enhancing the defense.
The Falcons clearly saw a lot of potential in Neal, picking him over a number of linebackers, including UCLA’s Myles Jack, Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, Ohio State’s Darron Lee, and the defensive end from Clemson, Shaq Lawson.
According to Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, “The strong safety position, it’s a critical one for us and one that’s really valuable. You have to have the run-and-hit factor of playing a linebacker because we play our safety so close to the line of scrimmage.”
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What was it about Keanu Neal that made him the Falcon’s first round pick, and what he can bring to the Atlanta defense?
The Florida Gator’s defensive back from Bushnell, FL, declared for the NFL draft after an exceptional junior year. Neal’s size and athleticism are two factors that made him a prime selection. He’s a big safety at 6-foot, 211 lbs.
In the NFL Combine, his 132-inch broad jump was the longest amongst the safeties. He also put up an impressive 38 inch vertical jump that tied for second highest.
Neal seems to be pleased about becoming a Falcon. When asked how he thinks he will fit in, he said, “I think I fit perfectly. They want a guy who’s interchangeable, a guy who can do more than just one thing and I fit that.”
Though it’s still early, Keanu Neal already has a game plan. When asked for an idea of how he’s going to make adjustments to the Falcon’s defense, he said, “I wouldn’t say there’s too much of a change defensively, but just continuing to focus on the details, studying film and understanding that the game is going to be faster. Those little things that you got away with in college aren’t going to fly in the NFL because everyone’s good, fast, and strong. So just focus on the details and the little things, watching film, and studying your opponent are going to be the biggest things for me.”
Now that the Falcons have their safety, they will seek to fill their needs at pass-rusher, linebacker, tight end and offensive guard in the second round of the NFL Draft. Their next pick will be the 50th overall selection.
Keep in mind that the Falcons only have a total of five picks, after losing their fifth round pick due to piping crowd noise into the Georgia Dome. They also traded their sixth round pick to Tennessee for guard Andy Levitre. With just five picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons will have to do their best to address their needs.