17th overall pick Keanu Neal will make his NFL debut for the Falcons on Monday night against the Saints, head coach Dan Quinn told reporters, including Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. Quinn said Neal “will play a lot,” tweets D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but won’t be on the field for every snap.
Neal will likely split snaps with fellow safety Kemal Ishmael, who’s seen action on nearly every defensive play this season while filling in for Neal, who has been sidelined since late August with a knee injury. Ishmael has produced at a slightly below average level, grading as the league’s No. 39 safety among 70 qualifiers, according to Pro Football Focus. Atlanta’s defense as a whole, however, could certainly use a boost, as they’ve ranked 30th in DVOA through two games.
Back in August, PFR’s scouting guru Dave-Te Thomas lauded Neal’s playmaking ability while looking at the Falcons’ Impact Rookies:
Neal is a smooth, fluid mover who has done quite a nice job of making plays at the opposite side of the field, thanks to his burst, second gear, and ability to sift through traffic to get to the ball. He shows excellent ball reactionary skills, along with the quick decision-making process to close on the play with good urgency. He can change direction in an instant and does a nice job of maintaining position when challenged by lead blockers assisting vs. the ground game.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.