Falcons DC: Keanu Neal is going to be a 'pretty special'


Some Atlanta Falcons fans were not thrilled when the team made safety Keanu Neal a first-round pick at No. 17. But the rookie has impressed the coaching staff during offseason workouts.

"I'll tell you what, I've been very impressed with (Neal)," defensive coordinator Richard Smith said, via the team's official website. "He's extremely focused, he's very mature, he's very, very talented. I love his demeanor and his work ethic. He's the first one in the building trying to get more coaching; he wants to be coached so much. I think he's going to be pretty special.

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"We can bring him on pressures, we can drop him into coverage, he can man up -- so it's a really good addition. More importantly, I love his maturity and how important it is to him as a young guy."

The Falcons needed an upgrade at safety and Neal should slide into the strong safety spot from Day 1. The hard-hitting defensive back was compared to Kam Chancellor during the draft process. Since being drafted by Dan Quinn, that comparison has only grown. If Neal comes close to proving that evaluation true, he'll be plenty worth a mid-first round pick.

The biggest concern for Neal will be how he plays in space. There was concern he would get lost in coverages while at Florida. But the Falcons' run defense should immediately improve with Neal at the strong safety spot.

Atlanta's defense largely lacked toughness and explosive playmaking last season. Neal is one of several rookies, along with linebackers De'Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones, who should immediately contribute and add physicality in Quinn's second season at the helm.