Veteran safety Keanu Neal signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Neal spent his first five seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons after being selected 17th overall in the 2016 NFL draft out of Florida. In his five-year tenure, Neal played in just 49 games. He missed 15 games in 2018 after tearing his ACL in a non-contact injury against the Philadelphia Eagles and 13 games in 2019 after suffering a torn Achilles. Neal returned to the field this past season and played in 15 games.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 20, 2021
Keanu Neal, Dallas Cowboys, Agree to Contract
The 25-year old safety out of Webster, Florida had an excellent three-year career with the Gators. After playing in just four games as a Freshman, Neal earned a starting safety spot in his Sophomore season. In 2014, Neal intercepted three passes, returned a fumble for a touchdown, and had 45 tackles. Neal earned a reputation as a hard-hitting safety, who could fly around the field. Despite being pegged as a strong safety, primarily playing in the box, Neal also played the “centerfield” role in his sophomore season at the free safety position. Finally, Neal culminated his three-year college career with his best season to date. He had 84 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks in his junior season. In a surprise move, Neal declared for the draft as a junior, ultimately selected by the Falcons.
As a rookie, Neal shined in a “positionless” role. He received playing time in the slot, at linebacker, and both safety positions. Neal forced five fumbles as a rookie, defended eight passes, and posted 106 tackles. In coverage, Neal allowed the second-lowest passer rating from the slot in the NFL, 72.9. A premier safety also took notice of Neal’s play: Kam Chancellor. Chancellor was a popular NFL-comparison for Neal and spoke highly of the Falcons rookie.
Washington CB Bashaud Breeland locked down WRs in the slot last season. pic.twitter.com/vibTStC3uj
— PFF (@PFF) July 9, 2017
Following a promising rookie season, Neal put the tools together in 2017. Starting all 16 games, Neal was named a pro-bowler after combining for 116 tackles, including four for a loss, and intercepting one pass. However, the next two seasons were disappointing and frustrating for Neal. He tore his ACL and achilles (six months after the Falcons picked up his fifth-year option) in consecutive seasons, playing in just four games.
In his return to the field in 2020, Neal played well. He had 100 tackles, including a career-high nine tackles for loss, and one interception. Heading into 2021, Neal could be a difference-maker for a defense, with his physicality in the box and versatility in coverage.
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