Keanu Neal

Falcons Place Keanu Neal On IR

The Falcons have placed safety Keanu Neal on injured reserve and signed defensive end Steven Means, the club announced today.

Neal suffered a torn ACL in Atlanta’s season opener on Thursday night and will subsequently miss the entire 2018 campaign. The former first-round pick had started 30 games over his first two NFL seasons, but he’ll now be replaced by 2017 draft pick Damontae Kazee. The Falcons could conceivably target a free agent like Eric Reid, or a trade candidate such as Earl Thomas, but there’s been no indication as of yet that Atlanta will head in that direction.

Means, who turns 28 years old this week, was a preseason star for the Eagles, as he posted three sacks in the club’s final exhibition game. His regular season track record is much more spotty, as he’s appeared in just 26 games since entering the league in 2013. Means, who has spent time with the Buccaneers and Ravens in addition to the Eagles, will boost an Atlanta edge rush that already includes Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley, among others.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons S Keanu Neal Suffers Torn ACL

Keanu Neal‘s injury during Thursday night’s season-opening game proved to be significant. The Falcons safety is now out for the season after being diagnosed with a torn ACL, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter).

The third-year defender left the Falcons’ Week 1 loss to the Eagles, and he’ll now spend the rest of the 2018 season rehabbing his left knee post-surgery. This is a key blow to a talented Falcons secondary.

The Falcons did not expect this diagnosis, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter), ordering an MRI as a precaution. They’re now down a top young talent. The team announced Neal is done for the year.

The youngest player in a starting secondary that now features each of its other cogs signed long-term, the 23-year-old Neal emerged as a Day 1 starter after being a 2016 first-round pick. He earned Pro Bowl recognition in 2017 after making 113 tackles and forcing three fumbles. Neal’s forced eight fumbles in his career and has two 100-tackle seasons under his belt.

Atlanta has second-year man Damontae Kazee and recent trade acquisition Jordan Richards slotted as safety backups.

If the team wants to look for outside help, the obvious top candidate is Eric Reid. But he’s currently involved in a collusion grievance against the league after teams shied away from him in free agency this offseason. However, the stakes are high for the 2018 Falcons. Might that prompt them to reach out to arguably the top free agent available? Dan Quinn also coached Earl Thomas during his days as Seahawks DC, and Thomas has let it be known he remains at odds with his team, despite ending his holdout earlier this week.

The Falcons are now 0-1 in a key season for the franchise, with Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta and the team standing as one of the top contenders in a loaded NFC. This is obviously a tough development to start the year.

In other Falcons injury news, however, Devonta Freeman did not sustain a serious knee injury Thursday night, Rapoport adds. He’s expected to be fine going forward.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons’ Keanu Neal To Make Debut Monday

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.Keanu Neal

[RELATED: Falcons Re-Sign O’Brien Schofield]

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.

Falcons To Work Out Dashon Goldson

12:20pm: General manager Thomas Dimitroff told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the team is working to sign Goldson to a contract (Twitter link). The reporter notes that coach Dan Quinn is still leaning towards starting Ishmael in Neal’s absence, even if the team does add Goldson.

10:05am: With the Falcons seeking some reinforcement in their defensive backfield, the team will be bringing in a veteran safety for a workout. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Dashon Goldson will be trying out for the Falcons today. The team was seeking depth at the position following a knee injury to first-rounder Keanu Neal.

Dashon Goldson (vertical)After having played for the 49ers for six seasons, Goldson has bounced around a bit recently. The 31-year-old has played for three teams over the past four seasons, but he’s only missed six games during that span. The veteran actually had one of his most productive seasons in 2015 with the Redskins, compiling a career-high 110 tackles. The two-time Pro Bowler has averaged nearly two interceptions and one forced fumble a season throughout his nine-year career. Goldson was released by Washington in March, and he garnered some interest from the Rams.

Neal, a first-round pick out of Florida, was projected to be the Falcons’ starting safety. However, knee surgery is expected to sideline the rookie for about a month. Long-time Falcons safety William Moore was pushing for a return to Atlanta, but recent reports indicated that the organization has little interest in a reunion. Current backup safety Kemal Ishmael is battling a shoulder injury, and the team recently added veteran Sergio Brown for some additional depth.

Falcons’ Keanu Neal To Miss Games

Bad news for the Falcons as rookie Keanu Neal will miss games due to his knee injury. The safety will be sidelined for three to four weeks, according to a team press release. Keanu Neal

An MRI on Friday morning revealed that Neal will need a minor procedure done. The scope will take place on Monday.

The Falcons drafted Neal with the idea that he would start at strong safety from Day 1. Now, they’ll have to wait a little longer to see him on the field. Recently, PFR’s resident scouting guru Dave-Te Thomas wrote a glowing review of the Falcons rookie.

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.

He has the nimble feet you would want in a free safety, along with the loose hips to recover quickly when a receiver gets behind him. He can turn and run with the speediest of receivers, as he is a savvy player who knows how to disrupt the route’s progression by using his hands to knock his coverage assignments off stride. He has the loose hips and sudden burst to close on the ball in a hurry and shows good body control in transition. Neal has excellent hand/eye coordination, along with the leaping ability to get fine elevation going up to get to the pass at its high point (team’s active interception leader). He is quick and fast, which allows him to keep plays in front of him and mirror even the swift flankers and split ends in deep secondary coverage.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Impact Rookies: Atlanta Falcons

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Keanu Neal, S (Florida, No. 17 overall)

When the Falcons drafted Neal, they did so with the idea that he would start at strong safety from Day 1. That’s exactly how the Falcons are going to use the youngster just as soon as he rebounds from his “trunk” injury that has dogged him in recent weeks. Keanu Neal

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.

He has the nimble feet you would want in a free safety, along with the loose hips to recover quickly when a receiver gets behind him. He can turn and run with the speediest of receivers, as he is a savvy player who knows how to disrupt the route’s progression by using his hands to knock his coverage assignments off stride. He has the loose hips and sudden burst to close on the ball in a hurry and shows good body control in transition. Neal has excellent hand/eye coordination, along with the leaping ability to get fine elevation going up to get to the pass at its high point (team’s active interception leader). He is quick and fast, which allows him to keep plays in front of him and mirror even the swift flankers and split ends in deep secondary coverage.

While he is too valuable as a centerfielder to remove him from either safety position, he has the speed, range and mirroring ability to excel as a slot cornerback, as he is fluid and calm in one-on-one confrontations with split ends and flankers, along with showing the physicality to reroute tight ends and slot backs working in the short areas. Neal has the quickness, agility, and speed needed in the slot to more than handle any NFL No. 3 receiver. His play is reminiscent of Ryan Clark in terms of his ability to quickly locate the receiver and stay on the hip of his man throughout the route.

Neal came into this draft with experience at both safety positions, but thanks to the recent success that the Cardinals and Rams had in utilizing big safeties to play the Cover-2 linebacker role, Neal drew extra attention. Handling Cover-2 assignments at the next level will see Neal return to his roots as he was a second level defender during his days at South Sumter High School.

Continue reading about the Falcons’ rookies..

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Falcons, Keanu Neal Agree To Terms

The Falcons have become the first NFL team to agree to terms with their first-round pick from the 2016 draft, striking a deal with safety Keanu Neal less than a week after selecting him. The team announced the agreement today in a press release, adding (via Twitter) that Neal will officially sign his contract when he reports to the team’s rookie minicamp on Thursday.Keanu Neal

A league source tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that Neal informed the Falcons he wanted to focus on playing football, rather than negotiating a contract. That prompted the two sides to get the rookie deal for the Florida product done quickly, allowing him to get under contract before fully participating in the club’s offseason activities.

Neal’s four-year pact will be worth about $10.738MM in total, with a signing bonus of $6.009MM and a 2016 cap figure of $1.952MM, according to Over the Cap. As is the case for all first-round picks, Neal will have a fifth-year option attached to the end of his contract, allowing the Falcons to keep him under contract through 2020 if they eventually pick up that option.

Neal, a favorite of Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, came off the board with the 17th overall pick last Thursday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pauline’s Latest: Falcons, Neal, Joseph, Titans

Cal quarterback Jared Goff and North Dakota State signal-caller Carson Wentz are widely expected to come off the board in that order with the top two picks on Thursday night, but there’s some uncertainty about how the next several picks will play out.

After speaking to several people around the league, Tony Pauline of WalterFootball.com takes a shot at forecasting how picks three through eight will go. In Pauline’s view, the most probable scenario would see DeForest Buckner land with the Chargers, Jalen Ramsey to the Cowboys, Myles Jack to the Jaguars, Laremy Tunsil to the Ravens, Ronnie Stanley to the 49ers, and Joey Bosa to the Browns.

Ezekiel Elliott is a wild card – if he’s still on the board at No. 8, the Browns could potentially trade down with a team like the Dolphins – but otherwise Pauline’s predictions for the top eight seem entirely plausible. According to the draft scribe, the Chargers feel like they “desperately” need to add a standout defensive lineman, while the 49ers also covet Buckner, so that’s a situation worth watching too.

Here’s more from Pauline:

  • While Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee has frequently been linked to the Falcons at No. 17, Pauline hears that Clemson linemen Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson are also in play. According to Pauline, head coach Dan Quinn has been pushing for the team to select safety Keanu Neal, though that’s probably only a possibility if Atlanta trades down.
  • Washington wouldn’t mind trading down and nabbing West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, says Pauline.
  • According to Pauline, there’s a decent chance that the Titans will use one of their second-round picks to grab Ohio State wideout Braxton Miller, assuming the team doesn’t use any of those selections in a trade. Tennessee will also likely consider Buckeyes linebacker Joshua Perry on day two.
  • The Broncos plan on drafting a running back on day three, and Pauline hears that they like Auburn’s Peyton Barber in the neighborhood of the sixth round.
  • Teams are already talking to prospects and their agents in an effort to sign those players as undrafted free agents after the draft, and some clubs are creating “bad blood” with their approach to this process. According to Pauline, a couple teams have called potential UDFA targets and told them that they’re unlikely to be drafted. Those players are still optimistic about being mid-round selections, so being told that they’re likely to go undrafted has soured those players (and their agents) on those teams, per Pauline.

NFC South Notes: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers

The Falcons currently the hold the No. 17 pick in the first round, but they are open to trading down, as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com detail. GM Thomas Dimitroff has been aggressive in moving up the draft board in past years, but with this draft class being extremely deep, a move down is more enticing.

“We’ve looked at all the different scenarios, of course, and having few picks this year gives us an opportunity,” Dimitroff said of the Falcons’ strategy. “We think the draft has some really good strength from No. 15 on — obviously, as well as at the front of the draft. But we think there’s some good opportunities all the way through into the third round. So, it does present options to potentially move back.”

Here’s the latest out of the NFC South…

  • Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo is visiting the Saints today, according to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post. PFR’s Rob DiRe projected Carroo to come off the board at the end of the second round in the first edition of PFR’s Mock Draft.
  • Former Florida safety Keanu Neal says the Falcons would be the ideal fit for him, as McClure writes in a separate piece. “For me, schematically, yes,” Neal said. “I feel like that’s a great fit for me and my style of play. The coaching staff is authentic. I can tell they really care about each other and the program. I feel like [secondary coach] Marquand Manuel can really help me out as a person and a player. And Coach [Dan] Quinn, he’s a tremendous head coach. Getting under him, getting under his wing and learning will skyrocket my career.”
  • Offensive lineman Caylin Hauptmann worked out for the Buccaneers today, tweets Wilson. The 24-year-old Hauptmann, a Florida International product, has spent time with the Browns, Patriots, and Seahawks, but has just one career NFL game to his name.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

AFC Draft Updates: Bills, Lynch, Jags, Broncos

Most NFL teams have at least one representative in attendance at the pro day for Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch on Wednesday, but the Bills got a closer look at the young signal-caller on Tuesday night, according to Sal Paolantonio of ESPN, who reports that Buffalo took Lynch out for dinner (Twitter link via Mike Rodak).

The Bills have a quarterback they like in Tyrod Taylor, but Taylor has just one year remaining on his contract with the team, and an extension is not believed to be close, so it will be interesting to see if Buffalo nabs a QB early in this year’s draft. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is in Memphis to check out Lynch.

Let’s round up a few more draft updates from across the AFC…