Keanu Neal

NFC South Notes: Little, Falcons, Grayson

The Panthers traded up in the second round of the 2019 draft to land Ole Miss offensive tackle Greg Little, and as Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk writes, Carolina’s left tackle job is seemingly Little’s to lose. The Panthers deployed Taylor Moton on the blindside last season, but GM Marty Hurney‘s preference is to have Moton play right tackle. Daryl Williams is still in the mix for a spot on the right side of the line, but the club appears prepared to pencil in Little as its starting LT, which would make the rookie a key figure in the Panthers’ 2019 fortunes.

Now for more from the NFC South:

  • The Falcons have until July 15 to work out a long-term extension with franchise-tagged defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, but GM Thomas Dimitroff recently conceded that Jarrett may play out the 2019 campaign under the tag, which suggests that the two sides still aren’t particularly close on a new contract. Dimitroff said (via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), “I’m confident that something will get done one way or the other. If it doesn’t, we have a year to continue to talk about it.”
  • The Falcons‘ starting safety tandem of Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, who are recovering from major injuries that ended their 2018 seasons prematurely, are both expected to be at full strength by the time training camp begins in July, as Ledbetter notes in a separate piece.
  • The Saints tried out former LSU track star Cyril Grayson yesterday, as Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune tweets. Grayson has spent time with the Seahawks, Colts, and Bears, but he has yet to see regular season action.

Falcons Pick Up Keanu Neal’s Option

The Falcons exercised the fifth-year option on safety Keanu Neal’s contract, per a team announcement. This was yet another no-brainer fifth-year option decision. 

The 23-year-old (24 in July) has started in all of his games since entering the league as the No. 17 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. In 2017, Neal earned a Pro Bowl nod after racking up 113 tackles, six passes defensed, four tackles for a loss, and one interception. His much anticipated follow-up was wiped out by an ACL tear last year, but he’s set to get back to work in 2019.

A fun fact from the Falcons’ press release: Since the fifth-year option for first-round picks was instituted in 2011, the Falcons have exercised the fifth-year option on each player they’ve selected in the first round. Overall, that’s a good indicator of the Falcons’ success rate inside of the first 32 picks.

Click here for a full rundown of every fifth-year option decision on 2016 first-round picks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons To Pick Up Keanu Neal’s Option

The Falcons will pick up strong safety Keanu Neal‘s fifth-year option, GM Thomas Dimitroff tells Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (on Twitter).The exact numbers aren’t in yet, but it should be for about $6.7MM and keep him under club control through 2020. The pact, guaranteed for injury only, will become fully guaranteed on the first day of the ’20 league year. 

The Falcons have until May 3 to give Neal official notice on the option, but they did not need that much time to deliberate. They also aren’t overly concerned about the ACL tear which limited him to just one game last season. All indications are that Neal will be ready for training camp, along with fellowed injured standouts Devonta Freeman and Ricardo Allen.

Neal, 24 in July, made the Pro Bowl in 2017 after making 113 tackles and forcing three fumbles. Neal has forced eight fumbles in his career to date and has two 100-tackle seasons under his belt. He’s one of the more impressive young secondary players in the NFL and the Falcons intend to keep him around for a long time.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.